REIDSVILLE — Despite Reidsville City Council’s unanimous vote on Wednesday to approve a “stay at home” order, or SAH, to fight the spread of COVID-19, local citizens will have to wait as the council further deliberates about how and when to enact the public health precautionary measure.

The meeting came after a written request by Cone Health CEO Terrence B. Akin and Annie Penn Hospital President Cindy Farrand that Reidsville issue such an order to protect the community.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” said Farrand, who presented Cone’s rationale, also attending Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve been in healthcare all of my working life, over 40 years, and I have never seen anything like this or experienced it. It’s very unlike pandemics that we have seen in years past, like H1N1 and some of the others. This virus is a little trickier than that.”

Citing state models compiled by data scientists, engineers and designers at CovidActNow.org, Farrand told the council that hospitalization projections suggest severe hospital overloads will hit in late April if shelter in place action isn’t implemented by at least April 23.

“If we act quickly, we can actually minimize the spread of this and flatten the occurrence over time so we don’t hit a big peak of cases in our hospitals,” Farrand said in a letter sent to council members just before the emergency meeting.

“If no steps are taken, experts say that the influx of patients in coming weeks will exceed hospital bed capacity across the state and more people are likely to become critically ill and die.”

Akin equated Cone’s current approach to tackling a category five hurricane waiting to hit, Farrand said, adding that Annie Penn is preparing for the potential of high case loads from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I can assure you that Cone Health and Annie Penn Hospital are prepared for the unknown and what may hit us,” Farrand said.

“There is also the concern that even like waiting for a hurricane to hit, there are some folks that sit back and wait to prepare,” added Farrand, who stressed that the community must protect the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions who are most vulnerable to the virus.

“They wait and they watch the weather reports, just to see if it’s really going to come,’’ Farrand said. “We can’t afford to do that with something like COVID-19. This is a highly contagious virus. There are no vaccines to prevent it yet and there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat it yet.’’

Despite Cone officials’ emphatic warnings, the full council was not ready to order a SAH edict. Instead, members voted to “stay” the execution of the order while they try to gather more information from city staff, healthcare officials and law enforcement about what it will entail.

Before fully implementing an order that would compel residents to stay home unless they had vital need to attend to essentials, such as grocery store and pharmacy visits, council members said they would consider a timeline. THey had not authored a SAH as of Wednesday afternoon’s meeting adjournment.

Before such a decree could be stamped, the board would have to reconvene another emergency session or council meeting to approve and outline its timetable.

In a near-empty council chamber, city officials discussed several topics related to a potential order and how it would impact current COVID–19 prevention policy.

Asked if UNC Rockingham Health Care in Eden has considered pushing for similar action, Farrand said the UNC system is not ready to move to such a measure.

“I think there are folks that may be waiting for the governor to take action, and I just feel like the clock is ticking,” said Farrand. “ … Our infectious disease specialists within Cone Health are recommending (a stay at home order) as soon as possible.”

Officers quarantined, officials discuss implementation concerns

Among concerns officials shared about exactly what the role of police will be in enforcing such a stay at home order, considering recent countywide guidelines that first responders limit interaction with the public.

“Our police are now not entering a structure unless it’s a crime at the level of a robbery, assault or murder — those type of levels,” said Reidsville City Manager Preston Mitchell, explaining the city has staggered leadership and moved employees from different departments to other buildings to ensure continued operations.

“Some concerns we do have about going at this alone is that we don’t feel like we will be able to enforce social distancing,” added Mitchell. “If somebody calls in and says people are too close at a Food Lion, we are not planning to send our officer in to do any dispersal because we are pulling our officers back to try to keep the limited number of the small department we have available to serve our public as long as possible.”

Police Chief Robert Hassel had similar worries about his officers’ being exposed to the virus while trying to enforce a SAH order.

“I’m not sure what the council knows, but we already without mentioning names, had three officers affected by this, and they are now home, quarantined,” Hassel told the council via telephone. He explained that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in use and in storage is limited. “We are a department of 50 officers and (with) every officer (the department loses to illness) ... we have to re-allocate to make sure those shifts are staffed to be able to still deliver police services at a minimum standard.”

Mitchell said he was also concerned that Reidsville be in sync with the county and state rules in its implementation of a SAH order.

“Obviously we’re going to do the best job we can and we understand that we are not the decision-makers but we also needed to share that concern because it’s a legitimate concern,” Mitchell said.

Two different stances

Further confusing the issue are the conflicting stances between Reidsville City officials and Rockingham County commissioners, who have yet to discuss implementing shelter in place.

Commissioners say they are waiting for orders from state or federal officials before entertaining the move, according to a unified statement posted on the county’s Facebook page, yet not distributed to media outlets.

“Until we receive orders from the Federal or State Government outside of what North Carolina Executive Orders already exist, our County State of Emergency Declaration stands as written with no further restrictions planned at this time,” the statement reads in part.

Wednesday’s letter to the Reidsville City Council from Cone executives was not sent to county leadership, according to County Manager Lance Metzler.

City business by appointment only, playgrounds closed

Reidsville City Hall and other city offices will be open to the public by appointment only starting Thursday, according to a city news release.

All Reidsville Parks and Recreation Department playgrounds across the city  are also closed until further notice.

Citizens may still conduct business by phone and email and report issues to the city through the Reidsville Connect app.

Reach city departments at:

  • Finance: 336-349-1050
  • Permitting and Inspections: 336-349-1065
  • City Manager/City Clerk: 336-349-1030
  • Trash pickup, Roads, public utility construction: 336-349-1070
  • Utility payments may be mailed to 230 West Morehead St. and cash and checks may be placed in the night drop box behind Reidsville City Hall.
  • Make online payments at:

https://municipalonlinepayments.com/reidsvillenc

Joe Dexter is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. He can be reached at 336-349-4331 ext. 6139 or @JoeDexter_RCN on Twitter.

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