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Paying the price: Four Seasons and some retail stores open, but it's not exactly business as usual

GREENSBORO — After weeks of being closed, Four Seasons Town Centre and a number of other retailers across the city reopened Monday.

It’s just the latest sign that life is returning to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic. But for shoppers, things aren’t the same as evidenced by plexiglass shields and occupancy limits that many stores have put in place in the weeks since being forced to close.

The state has been mostly shut down since March 28, when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all nonessential businesses closed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

But that changed last Friday as the first part of a three-phase plan went into effect to ease the restrictions on clothing, sporting goods and other types of retail.

However, barbers, salons, theaters, music venues, bowling alleys and bars remain closed.

Restaurants also remain closed for dine-in, though many continue to offer takeout.

These businesses will be allowed to reopen on a limited basis under Phase Two. For that to happen, though, the state would need to see a sustained leveling or a decrease in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Continued improvement would lead to even more restrictions lifted under Phase Three.

But business reopenings come with strings attached. Primarily, stores can’t allow the number of customers to exceed 50% of what the fire code allows. Patrons and workers also must remain at least 6 feet apart and are encouraged to wear masks.

Although Four Seasons reopened Monday, not every store in the mall followed suit. JCPenney, for instance, was closed and the company hasn’t indicated when that will change.

A mall spokesperson said decisions to reopen will be left to tenants.

Across the city, there was a mixture of businesses that were open and closed.

Since Cooper’s order went into effect, a big unknown still is how many stores will choose to open their doors — or if customers will walk through them.

That question was answered at one place Monday.

TJ Maxx’s on Battleground Avenue was open and business was brisk. The store has a new floor plan with one-way aisles. An employee at the door kept a head count and offered hand sanitizer.

There were also lots of customers at Target on Lawndale Drive. The store has been open to buy groceries, but is now allowing shopping in all its departments. An employee was busy wiping down shopping carts. The store’s Starbucks kiosk was serving drinks, but didn’t allow seating.

Belk at Friendly Center reopened Monday, but with some obvious changes that include opening only two of its three entrances and strips of tape on the sidewalk to indicate social distancing for customers who must wait outside before being allowed to enter.

Customers may find themselves returning more clothing since most department stores have closed their dressing rooms.

At Friendly Center, anchor stores such as Macy’s, Barnes & Noble and Pier 1 Imports are still silent.

Old Navy, too, remains closed. Though workers were restocking shelves on Saturday, it’s unclear when the store will reopen.

Though Kohl’s retail chain has reopened locations in 14 states, North Carolina isn’t one of them.

As construction 'tops out,' medical and county officials look forward to new concept in mental health care

GREENSBORO — As a steel beam was welded into place at Guilford County’s new behavioral health crisis center, other work was going on in less obvious ways.

The 60,000-square-foot building, which will be managed through an agreement between Guilford County, Cone Health and Sandhills Center, a Greensboro-based mental-health agency, will be finished by the end of the year. It will take a few more months after that before the first patient can be admitted.

The $28 million center is unusual — there’s only a handful like it nationwide — because of its holistic approach.

Traditionally, behavioral facilities have focused on mental-health issues, so patients often are sent to a hospital to be screened for other medical problems. Patients can spend up to three days at the ER before their mental-health or substance-abuse needs are even addressed.

Physicians at the new center will be able to treat patients for physical problems — such as high blood pressure or diabetes — in addition to issues related to mental health or substance abuse.

With just under a year left on the schedule, doctors at Cone Health are applying for certifications, organizing their staff needs and attending to hundreds of other details.

“To have all the pieces come together as they have to this point is truly remarkable,” said Jeff Phillips, who chairs the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.

Just over a week ago, county officials gathered — socially distanced, of course — for the “topping out” ceremony at one of two buildings that are going up at 931 Third St. “Topping out” is a customary ceremony when a building’s final steel beam is installed.

The coronavirus pandemic has not delayed the 2021 goal of opening the facility, which will have two 16-bed crisis centers — one for adults and one for children and adolescents.

Guilford County is partnering with the state to pay for the $20 million adult center.

Sandhills Center, which coordinates mental-health and substance-abuse services in Guilford, Randolph and seven other counties, is paying for the $8 million child/adolescent crisis center.

“It’s going to be a life-changer for a lot of families,” said Commissioner Kay Cashion, a staunch advocate for mental-health care.

That’s because the center will be equipped to treat other issues that may be related to a patient’s mental health. For instance, if a patient is experiencing high blood pressure, that, too, could be addressed on the spot by medical doctors without having to send them somewhere else.

“This is something which is very new in the state because most places aren’t doing it,” said Dr. Archana Kumar, the chief of psychiatry at Cone Health. “That is, treating the whole person. We’re not separating the mind and the body. You’ve got to treat the patient as a whole.”

Cone does provide psychiatric care in its emergency rooms, Kumar said, but it comes only when needed and requested by staffers — which adds another layer to a process that could be streamlined.

Whether patients are brought to the new center by family, law enforcement or just walk in off the street, Kumar said the staff will be geared toward treating them without a sense of stigma that might appear in a conventional emergency-room setting.

The crisis center’s leaders are working to get state certifications and licenses in addition to finding nurses, physicians and counselors who are properly credentialed.

The facility will also be creating a network of local agencies that can provide substance-abuse treatment, extended rehabilitation services and a variety of other things that psychiatric patients may need over time, so they can be “managed without falling through the cracks,” Kumar said.

Cashion said she’s glad the planning and construction for the center began before the COVID-19 pandemic because it might have been interrupted. But in such fraught times, she wishes the facility was open.

“Because of this virus there are a lot of people who will be having issues,” Cashion said. “I wish we had it in place right now.”

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Guilford County Schools will still have vals and sals for 2020 high school senior classes. Here's how they'll be decided.

GREENSBORO — Vals, sals and class rankings are still on for 2020 high school seniors, according to information released by Guilford County Schools late Friday.

Grade-point averages for the 2019-20 school year for graduating seniors will be based on first semester grades only, the district said in a news release. That’s in keeping with the state board’s grading policy, the district said.

The schools also will use those first semester grade-point averages in determining the seniors four-year GPAs and their rankings within their classes. That includes the valedictorian and salutatorian, the first and second in the class, respectively.

The district shared the information as part of an update on how it will implement the new grading policy that the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted on April 23. In the release, the district said it had added the information to its website and also plans to mail the new guidelines to students’ families.

Students can only help, not hurt, their grades with the remote learning they’ve done since the school buildings closed.

No students will receive an “F” for their year or semester grades, but some middle and high school students may get a “withdrawal,” which means, according to the state, that there’s a lack of evidence the student completed the concepts needed to be successful in the next course.

Chief Academic Officer Whitney Oakley said that the district plans to assign teachers this summer to remotely support students who received a withdrawal on their report card, to give them a chance to complete remote learning assignments to bring themselves up to a passing grade before the next school year.

Elementary school students will get feedback from their teachers at the end of the school year on what they have learned across the whole year, but not a grade.

According to the news release, fourth quarter report cards for elementary students also will say whether students require remote learning during the summer to fill in gaps in their learning. Their report cards will be marked with “NG” for no grade, as well as a determination on whether they are being promoted to the next grade.

Guilford County Schools also will offer a “jump start” initiative this summer, Oakley said, to help second, third- and fourth-graders in reading and math for the students who are the most behind. That’s a statewide effort, prescribed by legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed into a law last month.

Oakley said the state has not yet said when in the summer that initiative should start and whether it would be an in-person academic summer camp, a remote learning opportunity, or some blend of the two.

Greensboro alcohol and drug treatment center sidelined by positive COVID-19 tests.

GREENSBORO — A residential alcohol and drug treatment center in eastern Greensboro has shuttered temporarily after three of its clients tested positive for COVID-19.

None of the three men at Malachi House II showed any signs of the disease before they received their positive findings, said Willie Wooten, the treatment program’s production manager.

“They are all off campus now,” Wooten said of program participants. “Right now, we are completely shut down. All our operations are shut down.”

Wooten said that to the best of his knowledge the three who tested positive remain asymptomatic.

Based at a house in the 3600 block of Burlington Road, the faith-based program was added Friday to state government’s list of local, “congregational living” facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.

The list also includes two Guilford County nursing homes and a strawberry farm with on-site housing. One residential care facility in Greensboro dropped off the list last week after all four of its residents recovered from the new coronavirus.

One of the local nursing homes, Camden Health & Rehabilitation in western Greensboro, reported that four of its residents who tested positive have died, according to the latest report by state officials. The state also said that three residents with COVID-19 died at Clapp’s Nursing Center in Pleasant Garden.

Both Camden Health and Clapp’s reported increased COVID-19 caseloads in last week’s updated reporting.

The state Department of Health and Human Services defines an “ongoing outbreak” at such group-living centers as two or more positive test results for COVID-19 that have been confirmed by a laboratory.

Each outbreak remains in effect for 28 days after the staff member or resident “identified as the last case began having symptoms,” state officials say. If that last person never develops symptoms, the outbreak is lifted four weeks after their specimen was collected for testing, according to state guidelines.

All remaining program participants and staff members at Malachi House II are being tested, Wooten said. He said there were about 20 participants.

Wooten added that while he understands the need to quarantine people in such situations, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the local program and its efforts to help people turn their lives around.

“We are a nonprofit,” Wooten said. “We’ve lost revenues, but the bills still go on.”

The nine-month program helps men battling such problems as substance abuse by imparting job skills and other values that can lead to lifetime vocations. It focuses on character building, discipline and recovery principles.

The program also operates as an alternative to imprisonment and requires participants to complete an educational program on chemical dependence.

In addition to working with groups such as the High Point Market that occasionally need temporary workers, the group keeps its door open by operating a car-washing business.

All that is on hold now, Wooten said, adding that he does not know for sure when the situation might improve.

He said the group currently is relying on its fundraising efforts. People who are interested can learn more about the program by visiting its website, Wooten said.

In its latest report on group-living centers statewide, DHHS documented a total of 43 ongoing cases of COVID-19 at Clapp’s Nursing Center and 39 at Camden Health.

The News & Record reached out Monday to executives in the Camden Health and Clapp’s organizations to verify DHHS’s latest statistical report, but they did not respond.

DHHS updates its COVID-19 statistics every Tuesday and Friday for nursing homes, residential care centers, prisons and jails, and other organizations that offer group housing for workers or program participants.

Rudd Strawberry Farm in northeast Greensboro was the only other local facility with active cases in the most recent DHHS tally.

The state agency reported nine active cases at the farm on Hicone Road — an increase of one from earlier reports.

Heritage Greens, a senior living community on Meadowood Street, was bumped to DHHS’s list of “previous outbreaks,” meaning that officially it no longer has any ongoing cases of COVID-19.

Along with six other facilities across the state, Heritage Greens made the list of centers that formerly had outbreaks after four of its residents who tested positive at one time recuperated and were dropped from the DHHS file of active cases.

The statewide list of sites that still have two or more active cases includes a total of 89 congregational living sites with ongoing outbreaks. The list encompasses 51 nursing homes, 27 residential care centers, four jails, one prison, three farms and three other operations with group housing.