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'Work with us' county and city leaders implore in issuing 'stay home' order in Guilford County to stem spread of coronavirus

GREENSBORO — Whether they live in a city, town or an unincorporated area, residents of Guilford County will be under a “stay home” order that takes effect at 5 p.m. Friday and aims to rein-in the accelerating spread of the new coronavirus.

The order announced in a joint news conference Wednesday by Guilford County and the cities of Greensboro and High Point bans all non-essential travel and work through April 16.

“We are asking our residents to work with us as we work to hold back the spread of this disease,” said Jeff Phillips, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.

The order requires local people “to stay at their place of residence except that they may leave to provide or receive certain essential services,” go to work in “essential businesses and governmental services,” and pursue other necessary functions.

“Many people will be impacted by this decision, and it was the most difficult decision I’ve made as your mayor,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “There will be those who say we overstepped our authority and those who say we did not go far enough.”

The trio of local governments held a 4 p.m. press conference in the Old County Courthouse to unveil this latest development in their battle with COVID-19, which has spread to more than 500 North Carolina residents including at least 22 people in Guilford.

Kontoor Brands said Wednesday a worker in its Greensboro headquarters downtown has tested positive for COVID-19, but it was not clear if that person was counted in the official state tally for the county.

The order comes a day after the county said it had seen its first “community spread” transmission of the illness and the same day North Carolina reported the first deaths in the state due to COVID-19.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the state’s first coronavirus-related deaths were a person from Cabarrus County and another person from Virginia who was traveling through the state. The Cabarrus County patient was over 70 years old with underlying conditions, while the Virginia patient was over 60, according to a news release, which did not include further details about them.

About 30 people were hospitalized, authorities said, and some were in critical condition.

“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously — all of us, young and old, employers and employees,” Cooper said at a news conference while asking for privacy for the families of those who died. “This virus can be deadly, and that’s why our daily lives have had to change so dramatically. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Guilford joined several other counties and municipalities this week in ordering residents to stay home unless they absolutely need to go out. Among those issuing such orders so far are Mecklenburg County, the city of Durham, Pitt County and Madison County. Wake County, which includes Raleigh and ranks No. 2 in population behind Mecklenburg, planned to roll out a similar order very soon, said Greg Ford, chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners.

In Guilford, the authority to impose the “stay-at-home” order stems from a March 13 declaration of emergency signed jointly by the leaders of Guilford County, Greensboro, High Point, Gibsonville, Jamestown, Summerfield, Stokesdale, Oak Ridge, Pleasant Garden, Sedalia and Whitsett.

At Wednesday’s announcement Phillips, Vaughan and High Point Mayor Jay Wagner said the order followed in-depth discussions with senior Cone Health administrators and was not aimed at creating a “police state.”

Cone Health CEO Terry Akin said in a separate news release Wednesday afternoon that he was grateful to the local leaders for their actions.

“We have a window of opportunity to actually minimize the spread of this virus,” Akin said. “Today’s action will save lives and reduce COVID-19 cases.”

Phillips said that local officials began moving toward Wednesday’s decision two days earlier in a meeting with Akin and two other medical experts from the health system.

He said no single event or development triggered the further tightening of rules linked to the March 13 emergency declaration, which local officials most recently tightened earlier this week by limiting public gatherings to 10 people and banning the use of public and some private playgrounds.

Vaughan said leaders became concerned that if they did not act more assertively, the highly contagious disease would overwhelm area hospitals.

The declaration contains a laundry list of exceptions for workers in business and government, ranging from health care, law enforcement and public safety to groceries, pharmacies, critical manufacturing and other businesses key to maintaining the economy.

“This is not a full shutdown. It’s not a lockdown,” Wagner said, noting that people who do not work in an essential profession can still go out for such activities as buying groceries, getting medicine, helping family and friends, and walking their dogs.

Phillips said exceptions also would include parents helping children continue their education by going to schools — closed countywide by state mandate over virus fears — in order to borrow laptops and other technology used for distance learning or to make use of Wi-Fi hotspots located in eight school parking lots.

Phillips said residents with questions about whether their particular reason for leaving home is good enough can call a new county hotline at 336-641-7527 after 2 p.m. today when it goes live.

He said local officials also plan to post answers to frequently asked questions about the new order at guilfordcountync.gov.

If it were absolutely necessary, law enforcement officers could charge someone who willfully violated the order with a misdemeanor, said Don Campbell, the county’s emergency management director.

But he said officers likely would be doing “a lot of education,” more so than taking violators into custody.

“Our goal in this process is to get people to stay home, not to put people in jail and issue citations,” Campbell said.

North Carolina has not issued a statewide shelter-in-place order but has gradually reduced allowable gathering sizes, ordered some nonessential businesses, such as hair salons and barbershops, to close starting Wednesday and shuttered K-12 schools until mid-May. Trade groups representing hospitals and doctors have written Cooper asking him to issue more statewide restrictions.

Without giving specifics, Cooper said further guidance and orders would be upcoming. He urged people to stay at home and businesses to get their telecommuting options in order.

“Local communities are doing what they think is right and I understand that. It’s important for (state officials) to make sure we are deliberate and that we get this right,” Cooper said. “We will be issuing additional orders soon.”

The tighter restrictions came as General Assembly members held their first formal meeting to determine what lawmakers can offer to buttress the state’s response. GOP House Speaker Tim Moore created four COVID-19 working groups, led by both Republicans and Democrats, that could recommend bills to the full legislature when it reconvenes.

GOP Senate leader Phil Berger and Minority Leader Dan Blue said Wednesday in a joint statement that fellow senators would collect ideas with a goal of coming to a consensus with Cooper and the House on “how to help all North Carolinians.”

The annual session is set to begin April 28, but there’s been talk that the governor would call lawmakers back sooner.

'A godsend': Greensboro giveaway helps about 10,000 people in need because of COVID-19 crisis

GREENSBORO — About 10,000 people descended on a produce giveaway Wednesday, soberly reinforcing how much area families are struggling to make ends meet as the coronavirus crisis drags on.

The line of cars in the Daystar Church parking lot extended into the street — and beyond — for a chance to get produce donated by Foster-Caviness. The Greensboro company supplies restaurants, military bases and more than a 1,000 school cafeterias across North Carolina.

On Wednesday, it was concern, not commerce, that sent its trucks to Daystar.

Paul Lieb, the company’s president, helped keep things running smoothly while expressing his gratitude to volunteers who risked catching the respiratory disease to help others Wednesday.

“It’s pretty heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces,” Lieb said.

After Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools closed and banned dine-in eating at restaurants in an attempt to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Foster-Caviness found itself with an unexpected surplus.

“We have a lot of product and a lot of inventory and thought the best thing to do was to donate it where it was needed,” Lieb said.

The giveaway was coordinated with the help of Out of the Garden Project, a local nonprofit that serves meals at Daystar Church and holds produce giveaways in neighborhoods where residents struggle to feed their families.

Foster-Caviness frequently works with nonprofits like Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, which serves 18 counties in the Piedmont Triad. The company donates anywhere from five to 15 pallets of food a week to Out of the Garden Project.

But Wednesday’s produce giveaway was the largest food donation Out of the Garden Project has ever received.

“This is more produce than we give out in an entire month. It’s just crazy,” said Don Milholin, Out of the Garden’s president.

By 10:30 a.m., pallet after pallet of potatoes, apples, lettuce, carrots, melons, oranges and pineapples were unloaded from four trucks. The nearly 50,000 pounds of food overran the church parking lot.

“There is everything from avocados to strawberries to blueberries to every vegetable you can name,” Milholin said.

Cars snaked all through the parking lot and out onto Merritt Drive well past the Patterson Street overpass. About 400 cars an hour made their way through the loading zone.

Jason Kempworth did a good job of keeping traffic moving as he waved his arms and yelled, “Come on down! The price is right!”

Kempworth, a Foster-Caviness employee, said he is no stranger to giving directions.

“I specialize in logistics and distribution, so I’m used to this,” he said.

Volunteers from Foster-Caviness and Daystar Church hustled to load boxes of produce into trunks and cargo areas. A pallet of eggs meant each family got a couple dozen of them.

Families also got fresh bread from the Panera chain and hot Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches.

The donations were a big help to Pamela Hinchee, who has four children and is unemployed.

“I’m a Lyft driver and I’m out of work because no one wants to ride,” said Hinchee, who added that her last fare was 10 days ago.

As Johnny Thomas and his wife waited in line, he said he was grateful for the food he would be able to put on his family’s table.

“We have a son that just got laid off,” Thomas said, “and they have three kids.”

Michelle Watkins, who is responsible for a family of four, was laid off by Guilford County Schools. She heard about the giveaway through Facebook.

“It’s just a godsend,” she said.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Nature’s call: N.C. parks have been overrun by people needing to escape their COVID-19 isolation. Page A2

Inside today's newspaper

Triad Golf Courses stay open during pandemic: “Golf is a sport that is made for social distancing.” ââ Sports, C1

'An opportunity to get innovative.' Amid isolation and social distancing, the show goes on — online.

GREENSBORO — Singer/songwriter Lyn Koonce played her Sunday night concert to a full house in the UpStage Cabaret of Triad Stage.

Actually, only three Triad Stage staffers attended in person.

The rest of the audience joined online from around the city and the United States — even from Europe.

Had they all shown up, “We would have had to turn people away,” said Preston Lane, producing artistic director of Triad Stage.

The concert was part of the free Facebook Live streaming series that the downtown professional theater has started to broadcast on the Internet during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like other arts venues and organizations worldwide, Triad Stage has temporarily stopped productions and closed its doors to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

The theater illustrates the challenge that visual and performing arts organizations and artists face. They have lost gigs, sales, fees and other income-producing activities.

Artists also worry about the effect of the artistic drought on audiences, who rely on live music, theater, dance and visual arts to stretch the mind and soothe the soul.

”I think they feel a lack of connection and community, a void or a sense of loss,” Koonce said. “I know I do. So much of my inspiration comes from seeing live performances.”

So naturally, artists have gotten creative.

Like Koonce, many seek other ways to continue their art for a virtual audience.

“I was feeling a sense of urgency to do some kind of concert online as gigs had been cancelled for the foreseeable future,” Koonce said. “Playing and performing music helps me feel like I’m doing something from my corner of the world that could be uplifting to someone else.”

Even with Guilford County issuing a stay at home order effective at 5 p.m. Friday, many performers can still send their home performances to online fans.

That’s what Koonce plans to do.

With Triad Stage’s Facebook Live streaming series, performers will do their shows remotely and go live from Triad Stage’s Facebook page as scheduled, said Deidre James, theater marketing director.

Triad Stage has felt the impact of lost revenue from putting its theatrical productions on hold.

Last week, Lane laid off two-thirds of his 26-member staff.

He had to cut the budget of his nonprofit organization so that it could stay afloat with little income.

“To tell them I no longer had work for them was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life,” Lane said in a video message to patrons.

He and others fear what an extended lack of income will mean to an arts sector that often has struggled financially.

“We are not certain of what income will be coming in the next month — or until the situation improves — and that could be devastating,” Lane said.

Koonce performed for free at Triad Stage.

But she advertised her Venmo handle (@Lyn-Koonce) in case people wanted to tip through the mobile payment service. “Several did, which I so appreciated,” Koonce said.

Before the stay-at-home order was issued, the Carolina Theatre had announced that it, too, would start virtual programs.

It would host virtual open mics, post downloadable activities and create virtual tours for adults and kids, and host livestreams and watch parties of pre-recorded shows.

With the stay-at-home order, some plans will have to evolve, said Gigi Galdo, marketing assistant for the historic downtown theater.

“But barriers, censorship and cultural restraint have always pushed artists past their creative limits,” Galdo said. “I look at this as an opportunity to get innovative.”

Musicians Jessica Mashburn and Evan Olson continue to perform at facebook.com/JessicaMashburn21.

“We want to connect with the people we usually see at our shows a few times a week,” Mashburn said. “It’s our hope that they need us still as much as we need them. Our viewers and supporters are literally allowing us to carry on musically through this.”

Art museums have closed for now, but many have their collections online.

UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum’s art can be found at weatherspoonart.org/collection.

Dance Project and Royal Expressions Contemporary Ballet turned to offering dance classes online.

Dance Project, which teaches in the downtown Greensboro Cultural Center, normally would have been preparing this week for Saturday’s Dance Marathon. The 12-hour marathon would have featured free dance classes and performances and the chance to win prizes.

The Greensboro Cultural Center is closed for now. Like Dance Project classes and everything else, the marathon has been postponed indefinitely.

The financial effect is big, said Anne Morris, who leads the nonprofit organization with Lauren Joyner. They had aimed to raise $15,000.

“Our fundraising goal for the Marathon represented about 50% of our annual fundraising goal, which means a substantial hit to our budget,” Morris said.

The effect goes beyond financial. “The Dance Marathon is a big way that we engage with our community, and the loss of that connection is one we’re feeling heavily,” Morris said.

Dance Project teachers now record mini-classes from home and offer them for free at danceproject.org/dance-at-a-distance.

Vania Claiborne teaches Afro-Rhythm. Milanda McGinnis teaches a warm-up.

At Royal Expressions Contemporary Ballet, founder Princess Johnson has moved the school online for her current students, who continue to pay tuition.

Johnson and her teachers also created a free Dancing Dreamers You Tube video for the public. On Wednesday, she streamed a free class on Facebook Live and Instagram Live, that she recorded with her phone and laptop.

“I’m glad that we can survive this pandemic because of technology,” Johnson said.

On the Facebook page for Community Theatre of Greensboro, Bria Jeffreys taught a dance routine from her Raleigh home.

Teachers at The Music Academy of North Carolina instruct students online.

Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra musicians can practice and rehearse from their homes, using music learning software SmartMusic and Zoom video conferencing.

“Theoretically, a stay-at-home order wouldn’t affect what we’re doing, since everybody’s doing it from home anyway,” said Evan Feldman, youth orchestra music director.

Youth Strings program Conductor Heather Lofdalh sent players You Tube videos to guide their practice. Students submitted recordings on SmartMusic of themselves playing their measures, so that Lofdahl could check.

Feldman conducted a rehearsal through Zoom.

He split the rehearsal into two groups, strings and woodwind/brass/percussion, and rehearsed an hour with each.

“I essentially run the rehearsal as if we were together in the same room,” Feldman said. ...”It’s not ideal, of course, but it’s as close as we can get to a communal rehearsal.”

Zoom worked well, depending somewhat on each young musician’s internet connection, Feldman said.

The orchestra had hoped to play the rehearsed piece, “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story,” at a May 10 performance with Greensboro Symphony musicians at the new downtown Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.

But the Tanger Center’s opening and the concert have been postponed. Feldman hopes that it will happen later in the spring.

“In the meantime,” he said, “it at least keeps us making music.”

Triad Stage keeps showing artistry through its Facebook Live series.

On Monday, the theater broadcast a yoga class. On Tuesday, it showed a table reading of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” by Greensboro’s Goodly Frame Theatre. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Ray performed on Wednesday from his home studio.

Several more performances are scheduled in coming days, although they likely will have to perform from home.

“We aren’t doing the work because it’s going to make us money,” Lane said. “We’re doing the work because it is essential to our core values to be engaging with our community. This kind of work is how we do that.”

But like other artists and arts organizations that seek support, Lane hopes that patrons will support Triad Stage financially so that it survives. The 2020-21 season will mark its 20th anniversary season.

When he laid off much of his staff last week, Lane said, “I also told them that I was going to do everything in my ability to make sure that we came back, that Triad Stage survived for our 20th season and 20 more beyond that.”