In order to slow the continued spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Tuesday morning ordering all restaurants and bars in the state to close dine-in services, effective at 5 p.m.
And in Winston-Salem, Mayor Allen Joines said he would announce the creation of a "significant" community fund today to help people affected by job losses or other crises during the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Tuesday, there were at least 40 reported cases of the new coronavirus in the state, including three in the Triad. The newest Triad case is a Guilford County resident who started showing symptoms after travelling to Orlando, Florida. That patient is in self-isolation, according to the Guilford County Department of Public Health.
"We know there will be many more to come," Cooper said at a Tuesday press briefing. Every case can be traced to travel. However, Cooper said community spread has likely started and is yet to show up in testing.
Cooper’s executive order also includes an expansion of unemployment benefits, easing the criteria to obtain benefits. Notably, people seeking unemployment benefits because of COVID-19 related layoffs will no longer have to wait a week to file for benefits or complete an in-person interview. Employers won't pay additional unemployment insurance taxes for employment cuts related to COVID-19.
Saturday, Cooper issued an executive order closing all public schools in the state and banning gatherings of 100 or more people until at least March 30. People or businesses found in violation of the order could be charged with a misdemeanor.
"This will be a long and difficult road for us to travel but we are North Carolinians, and we are resilient," Cooper said.
The president on Monday introduced guidelines calling for people to limit gatherings to no more than 10.
Restaurants will be permitted to offer take-out and delivery services, according to Cooper. The executive order also allows "onsite consumption in outdoor seating areas, subject to mass gathering restrictions" for restaurants where the recommended safe distance of six feet can be maintained.
Many Winston-Salem restaurateurs said they were expecting the order from the governor, after seeing similar moves in other states. Several restaurants had already closed their doors completely as of Monday, and dozens of others had made the switch to takeout or delivery only.
“I figured it was only a matter of time,” said Dana Moody, who completely closed West End Coffeehouse a day before the governor’s announcement. “If you’ve been watching what’s happened around the world and in other states, it’s not a surprise.”
Claire Calvin, the owner of Canteen Market Bistro, The Porch Kitchen and Alma Mexicana, said she already has laid off about 75% of her workforce so that they are eligible to file for unemployment. She said that Canteen and The Porch are ramping up production for takeout and delivery, focusing on frozen meals and such prepared foods as casseroles.
“I have been expecting that to happen since Sunday,” Calvin said. “On the one hand, I wanted to keep everybody working. On the other hand, I didn’t want to expose anybody to risk. So it’s good to have this clarity.”
Though Canteen and The Porch will continue to operate, Calvin said, she expects Alma Mexicana will close.
Vivian Joiner, a co-owner of Sweet Potatoes, said that the restaurant will serve lunch today but close at 5 p.m. for the duration. The sister restaurant next door, Miss Ora’s Kitchen, will remain open for takeout. “Miss Ora’s was already about 50% takeout, so we’re set up for that,” Joiner said. Miss Ora’s also will offer curbside pickup.
“Right now, I’m planning to rotate employees so everyone can get at least something in their pockets,” Joiner said.
Michael Millan, the chef and co-owner of Mary’s Gourmet Diner, said he is encouraging employees to file for unemployment. He said the restaurant's plan is to open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and he’ll see how that goes.
“This is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to deal with my entire life, and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 15,” said Millan, 37. “We’ve just been rolling with the punches. Nobody’s experienced anything like this. I think the thing people lose focus on is our margins are very thin, our employees are the lowest paid of any industry, and we have a perishable inventory — its’ like the holy trinity of messed-up circumstances.”
Cooper said he expects most restaurants and bars will hire back their employees once the pandemic is over.
The majority of COVID-19 cases are in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday. In addition to the Guilford County case, there are two cases in Forsyth County, one case in Iredell County and one case in Watauga County.
Other affected counties include Brunswick, Cabarrus, Chatham, Craven, Durham, Harnett, Johnston, Onslow, Sampson, Wayne and Wilson.
“Since we have this first confirmed case, we anticipate additional positive testing,” Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County Interim Public Health Director, said in a statement. “The county is heavily monitoring this case and will continue to address future cases as they arise.”
The Winston-Salem mayor said the fund he is announcing today is being set up by the Winston-Salem Foundation, the United Way and other groups as a way for the community to pool its resources to help people who need it.
"It will be a good kickoff for the fund," Joines said, declining to name the amount of money the fund could start with. "We will still be raising money. We have had a lot of individuals say 'How can I help?' We wanted to create a vehicle for individuals and others who want to help."
Joines added that one purpose of the fund would be to help people left jobless by the impact of the coronavirus restrictions. With Joines in the announcement will be Cindy Gordineer, the president and chief executive of the United Way of Forsyth County, Scott Wierman, the president of the Winston-Salem Foundation, and a member of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
In a separate effort, city officials said that they would be working with groups to provide take-out dinners three times a week at the city recreation centers for children under 18. The plans have not yet been finalized.
City Manager Lee Garrity said the city will be helping restaurants by helping supply traffic cones and signs for drive-up delivery services and take-out lines.
City staffers have been meeting daily in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are in unchartered water, where the view changes almost hourly," Garrity wrote in an email sent to the mayor and members of the city council.
Speaking of the council, that panel's March 23 meeting was cancelled on Tuesday, Garrity saying that the city is still working on the logistics of staying within the 10-person limit on public gatherings that federal officials are recommending.
Nationally, there are at least 3,563 people with COVID-19, according to DHHS. At least 68 people have died from the virus. The state public health lab has tested 376 specimens, and has supplies to test an additional 1,350 specimens. Private laboratories and university medical systems also have testing capacity, and have tested thousands of specimens, according to DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Speaking on Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough's podcast, Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift said most people who have the virus will experience mild symptoms within two to 14 days of being exposed to the virus.
COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
"Most people have mild symptoms and they don’t require hospitalization, although there have been reports of severe illness and there’s a small percent that have died," Swift said. "Well obviously we’re all at risk at being infected with COVID-19. You may be young and healthy. You may have symptoms or you may not exhibit symptoms, but you could pass that along…"
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local health departments, are urging people to practice social distancing, to constantly wash their hands and to avoid touching their faces.
Forsyth County Emergency Services Director August Vernon also appeared on the podcast, and urged people to remain vigilant, yet calm, saying "we've been here before."
"In the past 20 years we had issues and concerns with anthrax, with small pox, with SARS, and, reminder, we did go through a pandemic in 2009 with H1N1," Vernon said.
COVID-19 is transferred mainly from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing or from close personal contact. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.