More businesses are ordered to close this week in North Carolina, and a two-week break from in-person instruction for public school students has been extended to May 15. The moves are intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday.
“I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but they’re necessary to save lives,” Cooper said at a news conference.
The executive order that Cooper issued will require the closures of gyms, hair and nail salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, movie theaters and other businesses. That order will be effective at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Cooper also reduced mass gatherings to no more than 50 people.
Cooper did not issue a shelter-in-place order as some states, including California, have done. Restaurants that provide take-out or curbside service and grocery stores will remain open, Cooper said.
The governor said he wasn’t giving up yet on students’ returning to class to complete the public school year. State education officials and lawmakers are working on plans to expand online instructional assistance beyond virtual efforts already underway. Universities already have shifted to online instruction.
Nearly 55,000 students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools moved to online learning Thursday, with teachers posting assignments and connecting with their students on various digital platforms. After some early glitches, the system’s main platform, PowerSchool Learning, has been working smoothly for the most part.
Superintendent Angela Hairston said she understands that online learning will create stress for families.
“However, we know this is the best decision for our entire community,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to do our very best to support our students as we put the health and safety of our students, staff, and community first.”
The school district has loaned more than 20,000 devices to students for use at home. Additionally, it plans to install 4,000 mobile hotspots for families lacking internet access. Those devices are expected to arrive later this week.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services listed 297 known COVID-19 cases Monday, but the state number doesn’t immediately include all cases reported by county health departments. If reports from the county departments are included, North Carolina had at least 410 cases of coronavirus Monday, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. There still were no confirmed deaths in North Carolina from the novel coronavirus as of Monday’s DHHS update.
About 90 percent of the local school district’s staff is working from home, said school spokesman Brent Campbell.
“We are asking that only essential staff come in,” Campbell said. “That varies from school to school but in some cases teachers still may need to come in. We are asking them to remain separated, work in their own classrooms and away from others if they are coming in.”
As of Sunday, 46 states have shut down schools, according to Education Week.
Experts have one tip for making it through the next few weeks: Try to limit the amount of time you spend watching and reading information about the novel coronavirus.
“Watching too much television news on the pandemic is not healthy,” said Sam Gladding, a professor of counseling at Wake Forest University. “To stay informed is good. To overdose is depressing.”
With all the closings, from schools to stores, and warnings to avoid large groups of people, feelings of isolation will be a problem for many. To combat that, exercise, eat healthy foods and reach out to friends and relatives.
Don’t watch coverage of the pandemic around the clock every day, said Andy Hagler, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Forsyth County.
“Hearing (or watching) the same story over and over again causes stress for those working at home or being quarantined at home,” Hagler said. “People need to take time to unplug.”
The coronavirus pandemic is a worldwide health crisis with more than 370,000 cases and more than 16,000 deaths, according to news reports.
In the United States, there are more than 33,000 cases of coronavirus and at least 400 patients have died from the virus, according to news reports. In North Carolina, there were at least 297 cases of coronavirus on Monday.
In Forsyth County, at least 12 cases have been reported.
Constantly watching or reading news reports about the virus is the wrong approach, said Steven Scoggin, a licensed professional counselor and the interim chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
“Information mania is real and can unnecessarily increase stress in an already stressful situation,” Scoggin said.
People with mental illnesses, such as depression, may find it difficult to deal with the pandemic, Gladding said.
“People who have pre-existing mental disorders, especially depression or anxiety, may have a harder time with the coronavirus than others,” Gladding said. “Individuals with pre-existing mental disorders will most likely do best to establish a routine where they are active and connected with others in a digital way or at a safe distance.
“If we know of people who have pre-existing conditions, we should reach out to them,” Gladding said. “Talking frankly but in a calm way settles individuals down more than hyping them up. It is easy to play the hysteria card at moments like this, but it is best to play the constructive card in showing others what is being done to combat the virus.”
People who are self-isolating or being quarantined inside their homes should call their relatives and friends on their phones as well as send them emails, Hagler said.
“You can’t catch this virus over the phone,” Hagler said.
He also encouraged people to write letters and send photographs to elderly family members and friends who are being isolated in nursing homes, assisted living centers and long-term care centers because of the coronavirus.
“This can help alleviate your depression and anxiety,” Hagler said.
People anguishing during the pandemic can experience stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, sleeping too much, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue, decreased or increased appetite, Scoggin and Gladding said.
“These worries can sometimes result in increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs,” Scoggin said.
People should eat healthy foods, get an adequate amount of sleep and periodically leave their homes to exercise — activities that will maintain and improve their mental health, the trio said.
Gladding suggested people should engage in social activities (even online), read, laugh, seek spiritual guidance or participate in spiritual practices, talk with others about their feelings, write about their thoughts and feelings. Doing yoga, developing a new hobby or continuing an existing hobby are ways people can calm down, Gladding said.
“These are some of the best ways to deal with stress,” Gladding said. “In other words, own the stress, i.e., the feelings, but then do something else that takes your mind and body away from the immediate situation, especially a situation like this pandemic, which we have but limited power to control.”
On Thursday, Elizabeth Wheiler and another teacher led a class of 16 people doing yoga outdoors at Miller Park in Winston-Salem. The yoga class was typically in the Miller Recreation Center, but the city closed all recreation centers earlier this month because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When I walked out on the field with all of them, they were moaning and groaning about the grass feeling so good,” Wheiler said. “They were glad to get of the house. They missed it (yoga) so much.”
Wheiler, 68, a retired school administrator who worked in the Iredell-Statesville Schools, said the exercise improved her mental outlook.
“This is a very unusual time in history,” Wheiler said. “It’s easy to lose your perspective and to just live in fear.
“The practice of deep breathing and moving and being with like-minded people can really lift your spirits,” Wheiler said.
Scoggin also mentioned that people should breathe deeply on a regular basis.
“Deep breathing from your diaphragm is calming,” Scoggin said. “Fear and uncertainty are the new normal, and it is how we hold and manage these feelings that is key.”
Scoggin and Gladding recommended that people who have troubling coping with the pandemic should seek professional help or consult with their spiritual leader.
“Be kind to yourself and unashamed for what you’re feeling and need,” Scoggin said.
Most people can cope with the issues they face during this pandemic if it lasts a few months, Hagler said. If the pandemic lasts for many months, more people could suffer mental health crises, he said.
“This is going to pass, but we don’t know when it will pass,” Hagler said.
The abrupt economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit home in Yadkin County.
Lydall Inc., the county’s third-largest private employer, said it is ramping down manufacturing and warehousing production at its Hamptonville and Yadkinville plants. It will fulfill remaining orders before closing temporarily by the end of the week.
The company said the decision means layoffs for some 500 employees in Yadkin County.
Lydall makes specialty thermal, acoustic and filtration products. The Yadkin plants serve all of the company’s domestic automobile customers.
Meanwhile, Lydall said it has instructed nearly 500 employees at plants in France and Germany “to stay home.”
Lydall said the decision was directly affected by “a number of Lydall’s largest automotive ... customers having temporarily ceased operations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy.”
Brandon Moynihan, vice president of financial planning and investor relations, said Monday that, although the temporary shutdown is planned to end March 31, “We’re going to take the shutdown day by day, dependent on the production schedules of our ... domestic customers.”
Sara Greenstein, Lydall’s president and chief executive, said in a statement the decision to temporarily close the Yadkin plants “was not made lightly. It was necessary for the sustainability of our business.”
Lydall also said in its statement that facilities in Pennsylvania also could be shut down temporarily due to a government-mandated shutdown of non-essential businesses in the state.
Those facilities produce different products than the Yadkin plants, and Moynihan said the number of layoffs in Pennsylvania has yet to be determined.
Lydall said it is offering support and resources to affected employees, including guidance on receiving unemployment insurance or other social benefits.
The affected Lydall employees will join more than 113,000 North Carolinians who filed for unemployment benefits between March 16 and 9 a.m. today.
An executive order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper allows claims to be filed by not only those who have been temporarily laid off, but also those who experienced a reduction in wages and hours or who have been furloughed.
The N.C. Division of Employment Security said at least 87% of the processed claims were COVID-19 related.
“There could be more claims related to COVID-19, in cases where the person filing did not indicate to our system that the virus was the reason for separation from employment,” Commerce spokesman David Rhoades said.
In 2016, Lydall opened an expansion to its Hamptonville campus, a 90,000-square-foot manufacturing and warehousing facility, and a 24,000-square-foot office.
At that time, it had nearly 800 employees in Yadkin, counting a distribution operation on Main Street.
Lydall already was experiencing pressures.
It reported Feb. 25 that fourth-quarter sales dropped 7.9% to $193.3 million. It reported a fourth-quarter loss of $70.5 million, of which $64.2 million was related to a “write-down of goodwill.”
Goodwill arises when a company acquires another business. The amount of goodwill is the cost to purchase the business minus the fair market value of the assets and liabilities obtained in the purchase. A company typically writes down its goodwill when the value of certain assets declines.
Overall for fiscal 2019, sales were up 6.5% to $837.4 million.
At that time, Greenstein said “we have started a strategic review, which we expect to conclude by the end of the second quarter of 2020, to evaluate our portfolio and end markets. The objective is to prioritize strategic actions that optimize capital allocation and drive long-term shareholder value. “
Greenstein said Friday that “although we are dealing with an unprecedented event in terms of size, scope and scale, we are cautiously optimistic that this is a short-term crisis from which we will recover.
“While we are quickly responding to the change in demand of our automotive customers, other parts of our business remain stable. Our China operations for all three business segments are seeing an increase in orders, and a majority of our employees are back at work.
“We are confident that by making these tough and necessary decisions early on we are better positioned to navigate further uncertainties and business disruptions caused by COVID-19.”
A former Winston-Salem police officer was arrested and charged Monday with sexual battery involving an incident when he was on duty and answered a 911 call at a local hotel, Police Chief Catrina Thompson said in a statement Monday morning.
Harry Lee White III, 37, of Summit Landing Drive in Brown Summit is charged with sexual battery, a Class A misdemeanor that has a maximum penalty of 150 days in jail. White resigned from the Winston-Salem Police Department Monday. He had been with the department a total of about 12 years and was promoted to corporal in 2012.
Thompson said in a statement that White went to Best Western Plus University Inn, at 3050 University Parkway, at 1:38 a.m. Feb. 20 after a 911 hang-up. Four minutes after White had cleared the call, the Winston-Salem Police Department was notified that a woman alleged White sexually assaulted her.
According to the arrest warrant, White is accused of placing his hands on the woman’s buttocks “for the purpose of sexual arousal and sexual gratification.”
“Supervisors from my Patrol Division immediately responded to the hotel and, based on the allegations, transitioned the investigation to detectives from the Special Victim’s Unit of the Winston-Salem Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division,” Thompson said in her statement.
The police department placed White on administrative leave during the investigation. After consulting with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, White was criminally charged, Thompson said.
“I must apologize to you for this behavior of one of my former personnel, but I will not tolerate this type of assault on one of our citizens by a police officer,” Thompson said in her statement. “Please rest assured that I hold our personnel to high standards, because I know that is what you expect of me and of your police officers.”
White did not immediately return a message left on his cellphone Monday seeking his comments. Jones Byrd, White’s attorney, said White has fully cooperated with the investigation.
White has worked for the police department as an officer two different times. He first began at the police department in January 2005. Then in August 2017, he resigned for other employment opportunities, according to a news release from the police department.
According to stories in The News Reporter in Columbus County, White was appointed as the police chief for the Town of Chadbourn in August 2017. But in April 2018, White resigned without an explanation, according to The News Reporter. According to the reports, White has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University and a bachelor of science degree from N.C. Central University.
The News Reporter stories said that White had worked as an in-service coordinator with the Winston-Salem Police Department and was a corporal in the department’s traffic-enforcement division.
White returned to the Winston-Salem Police Department in July 2019. Assistant City Attorney Lori Sykes said his annual salary was $57,120. She said White was never demoted, suspended or dismissed for disciplinary reasons during his time at the police department.
White received an unsecured bond of $2,500 and is scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on May 28.