In light of the increased spread of COVID-19, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines is ordering the city’s residents to stay home — except in certain circumstances — beginning Friday at 5 p.m. until April 16.
The leaders of the city’s two biggest hospitals are appealing for a similar order to immediately be extended countywide, saying that the county has “hours, not days” to take action.
Julie Freischlag, the chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist Health, and Jeffrey Lindsay, the chief operating officer of Novant Health, wrote a letter to county leaders Wednesday in which they appealed for the countywide order:
“Our predictive models show that we have hours, not days, to help flatten the curve in a way that does not overwhelm critical services,” the health leaders said, making a pitch for quick action.
Winston-Salem is one of several North Carolina municipalities and counties to order its residents to stay home or shelter in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All individuals currently living within the city of Winston-Salem are restricted to stay at their places of residence,” the order reads. “All persons may leave their residences only for essential activities, essential government functions, to operate essential business ...”
Essential activities can include medical appointments, grocery shopping and outdoor recreation, among others.
The order also mandates that people practice social distancing, meaning to stay 6 feet away from each other, and bans gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Winston-Salem Police Department said in a news release it will enforce the order through education, dialogue and seeking voluntary cooperation from all residents and businesses. If voluntary cooperation can’t be achieved, the department is prepared to enforce the restrictions through citations.
There were at least 17 cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County Wednesday, three of which could be attributed to community spread. There are more than 500 cases in the state, and at least two people have died in North Carolina due to the new coronavirus.
Clemmons, Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County have orders similar to Winston-Salem’s that are also going into effect Friday. Buncombe, Durham and Mecklenburg counties have orders going into effect today, and Wake County is also considering an order.
Dave Plyler, the chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, has the authority to issue an order similar to Winston-Salem’s that would cover the whole county. Plyler said that while he sees a stay-at-home order as a possibility, he sees no problem with a short delay in taking action.
A countywide order will be on the agenda for discussion in today’s briefing session of the county board. The board doesn’t pass measures during briefing sessions, but will set the agenda for its next business meeting April 2.
“I would rather wait a couple days and be right than do it wrong,” Plyler said, adding that he is likely to follow the advice of the county attorney on what the county can do. “We have been doing this — how many months? If we were in imminent danger where it was life or death in the next four days ... we need to intelligently react.”
However, the hospital officials are saying that in some of the nation’s most populated areas, officials may have put in place stay-at-home orders too late to significantly stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Each hour that passes, more and more residents are coming into contact with others, and the virus continues to spread rapidly,” they said. “Forsyth County has a chance to curb the spread of COVID-19 by taking action now.”
Commissioner Don Martin called the proposal “a tough issue.”
“The question becomes, what action do you take?” Martin said. “If people are going to the grocery store, they are still going out. You want to minimize the risk. I have read the Clemmons order. It is a strong statement of discouraging, not prohibiting.”
Joines said hospital officials said they’re worried about getting overwhelmed.
“We are trying to be very serious about it,” Joines said. “There are a lot of retail businesses that should be closing and things like that. We did try to make exception for vital manufacturing and things of that nature, particularly relating to medical.”
The order requires all non-essential businesses in the city to cease operation and to allow employees to work from home if possible. Some of the businesses considered essential include health care, child care, grocery stores, gas stations and many others.
The mayor’s office will review the order regularly, and may rescind, extend or revise it as needed or based on the recommendations by local health officials.
Kaelan Hollon, speaking for Reynolds American, said that the company’s operations would continue, as its companies are included among essential businesses.
“We continue to encourage employees in Winston-Salem to work from home if possible, and continue to observe social distancing, good hygiene and sanitation, to stay home if they feel ill and minimize travel where possible,” she said.
There are at least 42 known cases of COVID-19 in the Triad and more than 500 in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and county health officials.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced the first two COVID-19 associated deaths in the state Wednesday. The two, who died Tuesday, included a person in their 70s from Cabarrus County with underlying health issues and a second person in their 60s, who was from Virginia but traveling through the state.
It’s not clear if Cooper will issue a stay-home order for the entire state, despite some healthcare groups asking him to do so. However, at least one area county is asking him not to issue an order.
In a resolution adopted Tuesday, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners asked the governor not to issue orders requiring people to stay home statewide, and instead leave it up to individual cities and counties to determine the best course of action.
The Yadkin County resolution comes a day after Lydall, the county’s third largest employer, announced it was laying off 500 employees as a result of the economic strain caused by COVID-19. In the resolution, the commissioners declare the board’s “deep commitment to protecting the liberty and freedom of Yadkin County citizens and businesses during this public health crisis.”
There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Yadkin.
It took less than six hours after the first declaration of a National Emergency before Donald Mueller began to feel the pinch.
“A 30 percent drop between lunch on Friday (March 13) and dinner,” said Mueller, a co-owner of the Mountain View Restaurant, a mainstay in Pilot Mountain.
Saturday brought another drop. Sunday, too, normally a big day with the post-church crowd.
That was a gut punch.
“We did OK Monday because I sold rib-eyes for $10,” Mueller said.
The bump came at a great cost; the sale was forced because he needed to cut down on inventory.
By Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the state was closing sit-down restaurants.
The take-out-only directive, without intending to, took out a small-town institution in three days.
Mueller, a native of Maryland, came to Pilot Mountain not long after leaving the Navy in 2008.
He was happy in the service. Proud, too. But a different sort of duty was calling, the sort that no son worth his salt could ignore.
“I’d been in four years and was looking at a ($20,000) reenlistment bonus,” he said. “I think I would have (stayed in), seen the world and all that.
“But Dad got ill with cancer.”
Mueller’s father passed away, and he needed a new opportunity. The restaurant was for sale, so he (and his mother) went into business in 2011.
“I had a huge advantage because the Mountain View has at least a 40-year history here,” he said. “It’s an institution for Pilot Mountain.”
One visit is all it took to see how that happened. Mountain View served up American Southern staples — fried chicken, beef tips, traditional sides — at fair prices.
A few twists (a chicken pimento cheese quesadilla comes to mind) kept the menu fresh.
The restaurant employed 25 to 30 full- and part-time workers. Mueller worked hard to be a good community steward, too. He supported local schools, and was an enthusiastic supporter of Cancer Services of Winston-Salem.
(His cooking fueled the Solar Bears Ride, an annual bike ride to the coast that’s raised more than $100,000 for Cancer Services. It was the only three-day ride in history where weights went up, not down.)
Then, in a matter of a few short days, the bottom fell out.
The owner of the building that housed the Mountain View had put it up for sale, and Mueller was this close to pulling the trigger on the purchase.
How long would the shut-down last? Experts were saying the coronavirus eruption could go on for months.
An immediate 30-percent decline in sales — even before sit-down dining was banned — is a lot. Particularly in an industry noted for small profit margins and quick closures.
“If there was ever a sign from God, sending a pandemic while in the middle of making a big decision, that was it.”
Mueller broke the news to his people the only way possible, in person and face to face.
No one was taken by surprise.
“Employees already were braced for something to happen,” he said. “They knew the building was for sale, so they knew things were in jeopardy.”
So on March 17, a Tuesday, Mueller took to social media to break the news to customers.
“Today the governor forced restaurants to close their (dining) rooms,” he posted to Facebook. “Even if we tried to do curbside or take out, it just wouldn’t be enough to cover our expenses until this situation is resolved.”
The Mountain View name stays with the building, so it’s possible that with time, a small-town eatery could re-open.
It’ll just have to happen under new ownership.
“If we would have made it to April 1, it would have been nine years,” Mueller said.
Instead of celebrating an anniversary, a small businessman joined the swelling ranks of the unemployed. A couple dozen workers, too.
The coronavirus pandemic is taking a fearsome toll, and the situation grows more dire by the day.
Lives — and livelihoods — will be lost on an accelerating basis. Donald Mueller and the Mountain View Restaurant is but one.
Reports out Wednesday indicate that private sector job losses could reach 14 million by summer — Depression-era type stuff.
No place is safe, and no one is immune.
Help your neighbors and love your friends. We’re going to need each other.
N.C. State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who lives in Winston-Salem, says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
In a letter released Wednesday, Folwell said he had a cough that worsened over the past weekend and was tested on Monday on the advice of his doctor.
Folwell, 61, was told Tuesday night that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“I have quarantined myself and will follow the advice of my physician as to when I will be medically cleared to return to the office,” Folwell said in a letter released to the public. “The staff at the Department of State Treasurer has been notified and, starting today, only those absolutely necessary for continuing business services will be in our building.”
Folwell said he had taken a “long-planned trip” with his son and returned to Raleigh on March 16. Folwell didn’t say where he and his son had gone on their trip.
“As many who know me can attest, I have a perennial cough that I believe is a reaction to my tendency to stutter as a child,” Folwell wrote. “Upon my return to work, I experienced what I thought was my seasonal reaction to spring pollen, which has always severely accentuated my cough.”
Aware of the coronavirus pandemic, Folwell said, he began monitoring his temperature and “saw no increase through the weekend even though my cough seemed to worsen.”
Folwell said that his office would make sure “retiree checks still go out on time, the State Health Plan provides comprehensive health-care coverage, and state banking operations continue uninterrupted.”
Folwell was last in his Raleigh office on March 18.
Folwell is a former member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and represented the county for four terms in the N.C. House. He was elected state treasurer in 2016.
The events leading up to a Winston-Salem woman’s death became clearer Wednesday after her daughter discussed the Facebook messages she received from her mother’s boyfriend.
Gidget Spencer, the daughter of slain woman, Toni Renee Handy, told the Winston-Salem Journal she received several Facebook messages from her mother’s boyfriend, Christopher Joel Mock, from her mother’s Facebook account — and the messages led her to report her mother missing to Winston-Salem police.
On Tuesday, officers found Handy, 46, dead in her home at 4502 Kimbell Lane, her body under a pile of garbage, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department. Police are investigating Handy’s death as a homicide and listed Mock, now deceased, as a person of interest.
Earlier Tuesday, Mock, 45, was driving Handy’s truck when he led Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies on a chase in Clemmons. Mock eventually wrecked and gunfire was exchanged before deputies shot and killed him.
Lt. Gregory Dorn of the Winston-Salem Police Department told the Journal that Handy and Mock had been an on-again, off-again couple for about two years.
Spencer said that before Tuesday, she hadn’t heard from her mother in days, a cause for alarm considering the two talked daily.
“My mom called me every day to talk to my baby,” Spencer said. “Saturday, she called me on my house phone — which she never does. The whole conversation was ‘Hey sissy, I’m about to walk into work. I’ll call you later. I love you. Bye.’”
Spencer said she tried calling her mother that night but didn’t get a response. She tried calling her again multiple times Sunday morning, still getting no answer. Spencer said that at 5 p.m. she finally received a message from her mother’s Facebook profile, but it was from Mock.
“(He) was like ‘Hey Gidget, it’s Chris. I’m fishing at Tuckertown lake. I’ll have her call you when I get back to the truck,” Spencer said. However, Spencer said her mother never called that night.
Fishing gear could be seen in the back of Handy’s truck Tuesday at the scene of the wreck and shooting in the 2500 block of Lewisville-Clemmons Road.
Growing more concerned, Spencer said, she tried to call and message her mother repeatedly Monday morning but still heard nothing. It wasn’t until 2 p.m., after threatening to call the police if she didn’t hear from her mother, that she received another message from Mock — this one saying Handy had COVID-19 and was in quarantine.
“Basically it said, ‘Hey, it’s me again. Me and your mom went and got tested for coronavirus, and your mom’s came back positive,’” Spencer said. She said Mock told her Handy was in quarantine, and he was in a holding cell with Handy’s cellphone.”
On Monday evening, Spencer filed a missing person’s report.
“I had a feeling something was up, because like I said my mom never goes a day without calling me,” Spencer said. “I had a feeling.”
Dorn said police investigators know of some messaging between Mock and Spencer and said the comments about COVID-19 confirmed there might be something awry. Dorn said he is waiting for autopsy results before officially releasing more specifics.
In the meantime, Spencer and her family are working to raise money to pay for Handy’s funeral. The family has set up a GoFundMe page, with a goal of $7,000. As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, $600 had been pledged. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/f/ funeral-burial-and-other -expenses.