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Empty coliseum and empty feeling: City that's supported the ACC Tournament like no other endures the worst week in event's history

GREENSBORO — The band played a funeral dirge as Florida State’s basketball players warmed up for a game they would never play.

The 67th ACC Tournament will long be remembered as a moment in time, the day everything changed, not only in sports but in America and beyond.

That we were here, at the home of the ACC, was both fitting and poignant.

Matt Brown, the Greensboro Coliseum director, stood under one of the backboards, the game clock stopped at 8:45.

“I think it’s good that it happened here,” he said. “This is where all the history is. It’s probably for the best that we’re not in Brooklyn.”

The news hit hard as it spread from the floor of the Coliseum. A city that has supported this tournament like no other has now endured the worst week in the history of the event.

“My heart bleeds for Greensboro,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday morning.

No one knows what this will mean for Greensboro in the future. It would be a shame if this missed event weren’t somehow given a rain check for a later tournament. And maybe even more than one.

If nothing else, in its worst moments, the ACC was at home when the news broke slowly over an agonizing two-day ordeal.

“The decision that we have made will have quite an impact on this city,” Swofford said. “This is where we were founded. This is where we live. This is where 27 men’s ACC Tournaments have been played and 20 or so women’s tournaments as well, and a lot of NCAA first and second rounds and even Final Fours. So there’s a tremendous basketball history. This town loves the ACC. This town loves college basketball. I feel for the impact on this city.”

Late in the afternoon, we learned that next week’s NCAA Tournament games would not be played in Greensboro nor anywhere else and that all remaining winter and spring NCAA sports championships were canceled. Duke and Kansas were the first two schools to announce cancellation of all spring sports and all athletics travel for the rest of the year.

All that seemed to wash over us from the moment the news began to spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and it left an empty coliseum and an empty feeling for those of us who were the last to leave the floor.

The scene was somber and sobering as family members from Florida State absorbed the news, watching the FSU players suddenly removed from the floor as the Seminoles band warmed up in a minor key, an eerie and solemn note as a backdrop to a tournament that was never finished.

“This cannot be happening,” one Florida State player said as the team walked off the floor and into the locker room.

The band played on, echoing off empty seats as an impromptu celebration of Florida State’s “championship” wrapped up near midcourt. Journalists some carrying notepads, some holding cameras just wandered around the court as conference officials, Greensboro volunteers and security exchanged nods and awkward acknowledgements that the biggest sporting event in years for this city had just abruptly ended.

A basketball, presumably the game ball, lay unnoticed against the scorer’s table as, one by one, everyone left the floor.

Then it was over.

And the great unknown began.

Leaky, overhead panels rile Guilford County court officials who work in High Point courthouse

HIGH POINT — The top floor of the Guilford County Courthouse on East Green Drive has been shut down for a month because of a leaky roof that caused significant water damage.

Guilford County officials have said repairs are in the works that should allow Superior Court to resume holding sessions on the buildings fourth floor of the High Point courthouse by late next week, said Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Joe Craig.

“I think we’ve finally been able to make a little progress,” Craig said this week in a telephone interview. “They told us they hope we can get up and running by March 20.”

But he said that county officials have aggravated the situation by failing to communicate clearly with their counterparts in the court system.

The judge said he questions whether senior county officials have taken the situation seriously enough.

Craig added that his dissatisfaction led him to file a public records request this week with the Guilford County Board of Commissioners seeking county bid documents detailing what work the county actually has planned.

“Trust but verify,” Craig said, repurposing a timeworn Russian proverb that the late President Ronald Reagan made famous in the 1980s.

In a telephone interview, County Commissioner Carlvena Foster took issue with Craig’s criticism, saying of the repair work, “We’re on it.”

The commissioner from High Point added, “We have addressed these issues pretty quickly,” noting that the board discussed the matter at its March 5 meeting.

“And when it was brought before us, steps already were being taken to address it,” Foster said.

The courthouse is part of a five-building, $42 million government complex splayed across 11.3 acres near downtown High Point, with construction dating to 1984.

The damage occurred during heavy rains in February. Water flowed into the building’s top story through two large glass structures that function like skylights.

County Manager Marty Lawing said Thursday that interior work is underway to make the fourth floor usable again soon, after improvements have been completed to replace or repair and paint water-damaged wall panels.

Lawing said the leaking overhead structures have been described as “skylights,” but they actually are a pair of much larger structural elements about the size of a small building or shed.

Rain apparently entered through gaps in gaskets that are supposed to securely seal the structures’ overhead glass panels.

“It’s been in place for 30 years so it’s gotten brittle,” Lawing said of the material meant to make the glass panels watertight.

Lawing said the county has temporarily stopped the leaking by covering the glass with tarps that maintenance personnel will replace frequently so that the fourth floor can be used again.

But he said that achieving a permanent fix is more complicated than simply trying to reseal the existing glass structures on the roof, so it probably would take until “sometime during the summer” to get those exterior repairs designed and under construction.

Because the glass structures are functional parts of the building, “we’ll have to involve design professionals in that process, to recommend what the solution would look like,” Lawing said.

“We think a permanent fix is the most feasible way to go both from a financial standpoint and for long-term effectiveness,” he said of doing away with the overhead glass and replacing it with some other material, possibly steel panels.

The courthouse’s overhead window panels have been a problem for years. They have been leaking on and off since he worked in the courthouse as an attorney in private practice during the 1990s, Craig said.

In the meantime, at least for another week, the current situation at the courthouse is not ideal for anyone who is unfamiliar with the building’s layout.

Directional signs are posted all over the third floor where some fourth‑floor activities have displaced the District Court operations normally centered there.

“Please be advised the Criminal Superior Calendar set for Courtroom 4C the week of Feb. 24-27 has been moved to Courtroom 3A,” proclaims a sign on one third-floor courtroom door.

Another says court actions originally scheduled in courtrooms HP01, HP03 and HP04 are now taking place in three other places: “Thank you for your patience during this transition.”

A placard on the stairwell door warns, “4th Floor Temporarily closed DO NOT ENTER AUTHORIZED PERSONEL (sic) ONLY.”

Looking to speak with a prosecutor previously located on the top floor?

“The District Attorney’s Office has temporarily relocated to Room 132 on the first floor,” directs another placard.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

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Triad sees first cases of coronavirus

The Triad saw its first cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday as a Forsyth couple tested positive, according to state health officials.

They were among five new cases in North Carolina reported as of Thursday afternoon. No cases had been tested through Guilford County Department of Health at that time, officials said.

Cone Health has sent a few tests to the state, but as of mid-afternoon Thursday, all had come back as negative, according to Bruce Swords, chief physician executive of the health system.

By Thursday evening, at least 17 North Carolina residents had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the latest strain of novel coronavirus — double the total from earlier in the day. And health officials said the number was expected to grow. All results are presumptively positive until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can confirm them.

To prevent the spread of the virus, several high-profile events have been canceled or postponed locally, chief among them the ACC Tournament, which ended Thursday mid-tournament, the reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the upcoming spring High Point Market, which has been pushed back to June.

And Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday strongly discouraged large meetings and gatherings statewide to limit the magnitude of the outbreak.

“People are worried about what all this means for their families, their jobs, their incomes and their communities,” Cooper said at a news conference. “By blunting the spread of the virus, our actions today aim to lessen the long-term negative effects on our economy as well as our health.”

The governor already declared a state of emergency earlier this week, giving him more personnel and fiscal flexibility to attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Cooper previously urged certain at-risk people — adults 65 and over and medically fragile individuals — to avoid large crowds and recommended limited visitation to nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

The statewide limit on assemblies was a recommendation, but Cooper said he had authority to bar such gatherings if warnings weren’t heeded. The governor also urged businesses statewide to use technology so employees can work from home. Similar telecommuting had been encouraged earlier this week for the Triangle area, where many of the current positive cases live.

Eight more positive cases announced Thursday included the first two cases from the Triad — a Forsyth County couple previously on a cruise ship where others tested positive, and the first two from Mecklenburg County. The exposure of a Johnston County person was still being investigated, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release. Raleigh-area media reported later Thursday another case in Wake County, which now has about half of all cases in the state, and the first cases in Cabarrus and Onslow counties, the latter at Camp LeJeune.

“There is virus transmitting out there, and as we increase our testing capacity, we expect that those numbers are going to start increasing rapidly,” state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said.

In the case of the Forsyth couple, both are reportedly doing well and are in isolation at their home, according to the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, which declined to release any more details.

Forsyth health officials said they are monitoring other people who are showing symptoms or may have been exposed and have collected samples from possible COVID-19 patients, but declined to say how many.

Iulia Vann, Guilford County’s interim health director, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the department has three test kits in stock and is ready to administer them to anyone who meets the state’s recently loosened criteria: having a fever, showing such signs of a lower respiratory infection and testing negative for the flu.

State officials dropped a requirement earlier this week that test candidates must recently have traveled through a geographic region heavily infested by the coronavirus.

Vann encouraged people who think they might have the illness and need testing to work through their family physician, if they have one.

She said that even with only a few test kits on hand, she was not concerned about running out of them.

“So if we use one of the three, they will automatically send us another one,” she said of state officials.

Vann shared the podium with Don Campbell, director of Guilford’s emergency management department, who said his agency is preparing for whatever challenges coronavirus presents by working with a large network of about 120 public and private partners in a format similar to that used to confront “hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms.”

He said groups ranging from his staff to the health department, area fire departments and nonprofit groups such as the Red Cross are taking a two-pronged approach that begins with working to contain the disease and stave off its arrival on the local scene. The second leg involves longer-range planning for what to do if the coronavirus gets a foothold locally and widespread contagion ensues, Campbell said.

“There are a number of agencies doing contingency planning for if it were to grow larger,” he said, adding that the planning process is similar to what local agencies used in 2009 when the H1N1 flu posed a pandemic threat.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Other activities were curtailed — the state high school basketball title games Saturday were postponed, and General Assembly leaders delayed oversight committee meetings and school group visits for a few weeks. The annual session is still scheduled to begin April 28.

Public K-12 schools — composed of 115 districts — remain open based on guidance from health professionals, state Superintendent Mark Johnson said. But Thursday’s new guidance discourages schools and child care centers from holding large assemblies and field trips.

Guilford County Schools was among systems that canceled or limited travel.

“All of our lives will change in some way over the next few weeks and months,” Cooper said. “We’re going to have to make some tough decisions, (and) some of them will be unpopular. But I think it’s critical that we take steps now.”