Another 10 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Forsyth County, the health department said Friday, the third day in a row the county has seen a double-digit increase in new cases.
There are at least 252 known cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County, with 123 of them considered active after five people died and 124 counted as recovered.
Ninety-nine cases have been added in Forsyth County since Monday — the majority of which are connected to an outbreak at the Tyson Foods processing plant in Wilkesboro, public health officials have said.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, and infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said Thursday that the new cases are to be considered clusters, which are easier to contain and trace than if they were the result of widespread community transmission.
There are five meat processing plants in North Carolina with known outbreaks, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 14,600 people work in these five facilities, including the Tyson plant, and more than 116 of them have tested positive for the virus, according to data collected between April 20 and April 27.
It is not clear if the 10 new cases announced Friday in Forsyth are related to the Tyson plant. Forsyth County Assistant Public Health Director Tony Lo Giudice said the health department is still investigating the origins of those 10.
Nationwide, there are 119 recorded outbreaks at meat-processing facilities across 19 states. Approximately 130,000 people work at these plants, and more than 4,900 employees have tested positive, according to the CDC.
Nearby Surry County reported its first COVID-19 related death. The deceased was in their late 60s and had several underlying medical conditions, according to the health department there.
“We are saddened to learn of our first COVID-19-related death in Surry County,” Surry County Public Health Director Samantha Ange said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the family during this difficult time.”
According to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, there are 13 cases of COVID-19 in Surry County.
The N.C. DHHS announced 414 new cases of COVID-19 across the state Friday, fewer new cases than announced Thursday in North Carolina. There are at least 10,923 cases of the virus in the state.
At least 21 people across the state died Thursday from COVID-19 or a condition exacerbated by the virus, according to N.C. DHHS. The state death toll is at 399.
Armed protesters wearing camouflage and carrying rifles gathered at a Raleigh cemetery Friday morning, and a larger protest was scheduled for noon, according to various news outlets in the Triangle. The protesters seemed to be supporting their Second Amendment rights, among other constitutional rights, and the need to reopen the state.
Another small group of armed protesters traveled to the North Carolina State Capitol building and then to the governor’s mansion, reported The News and Observer of Raleigh.
The protesters are separate from Tuesday’s “REOPEN N.C.” protesters who flocked to the state capital.
On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper and State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state could possibly begin the first phase of reopening on May 8, the day Cooper’s stay-at-home order expires.
Jay Cavenaugh III (from left), Evan Cavenaugh, Kate Cavenaugh and Jay Cavenaugh IV wait to pick up a 75-meal order through the Fuel the Fight campaign from Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream on Wednesday.
A local grassroots campaign has raised more than $30,000 this spring to buy meals to feed hospital employees who are the front line of the fight against COVID-19.
Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem is like dozens of similar campaigns being waged across the country to support both health-care workers and struggling restaurants during the coronavirus crisis.
In Winston-Salem, Sydney Poretsky and mother and daughter Evan and Kate Cavenaugh have been soliciting donations through GoFundMe since the first week of April and coordinating with Novant Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and dozens of restaurants to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to hospital workers.
The team is making one to three deliveries each day of anywhere from 35 to 110 meals at a time.
“We’ve only taken one day off, last Saturday,” Evan Cavenaugh said. “And that was to evaluate where we were and how much money we had left.”
Kate Cavenaugh is a 27-year-old technology consultant who left her home in Denver, Colo., to shelter at her parents’ home in Winston-Salem, along with her 24-year-old brother Jay.
Poretsky is 24-year-old communications graduate student at Wake Forest University from Potomac, Md.
Around the same time, Cavenaugh and Poretsky heard about Fuel the Fight, a nationwide movement that started in Philadelphia.
“That week after the sheltering-in-place order came out, we were sitting around the kitchen table, thinking and talking about how can we do something — what can we do?” Evan Cavenaugh said.
“We ended up with three goals: first, to give individuals who were sheltering in place an easy way to help the community; second, to honor the front-line medical personnel; and, third, to infuse a chunk of money into the community through supporting restaurants.”
Kate Cavenaugh learned about Fuel the Fight from two brothers she knows. Woody Klemmer, a classmate of hers from Vanderbilt University, is involved with Fuel the Fight in Philadelphia, and Teddy Klemmer is working with Fuel the Fight in Denver.
Meanwhile, Poretsky found out about Fuel the Fight efforts in the Maryland-D.C. area.
“I knew I wanted to get involved and do something,” Poretsky said. “I think I had my GoFundMe page up one day before I heard about the Cavenaughs and we started working together.”
The Fuel the Fight team coordinates with officials at Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist to determine what employees can use a meal when and where, then they choose a restaurant and place an order. “We have focused on the people who are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, and as this has progressed, the hospital has directed us to other units,” Kate Cavenaugh said.
In dealing with the hospitals, the team has had to meet certain safety protocols. When they arrive at a restaurant to pick up food, the restaurant staff places the food in the vehicle. When the team arrives at the drop-off location, hospital staff unloads the food, thus keeping contact at a minimum.
The team has purposefully chosen a wide variety of restaurants all over Winston-Salem, Kate Cavenaugh said, “to spread the love.” Sometimes donors or followers of the team’s Instagram account have suggested restaurants. Other suggestions have come from friends or community leaders. And some restaurants have heard about Fuel the Fight and contacted the team directly. To date, the team has bought meals from about three dozen Winston-Salem restaurants.
Just a few of the contributing restaurants include Simply Soul Food Café, Putter’s Grill, Milner’s, Zesto Burgers, Slappy’s Chicken, O’Brien’s Deli, Sampan, Cagney’s Kitchen, Forsyth Seafood and Real Q.
“One of the best parts about this for me has been working with the restaurants. Some of them would open early for us. Some would stay open late,” Kate Cavenaugh said.
“What we found is that a lot of restaurants were doing donations like this before we called them — despite their financial circumstances, Poretsky said.
Novant and Wake Forest said that many organizations have been eager to help. Novant said it has gotten similar help from such groups Allegacy and Truliant credit unions, church groups, Potter’s House Family Resource Center and direct donations from such restaurants as Chick-fil-A and Dewey’s Bakery. Wake Forest said it has also received donations from Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Hardee’s, Sheetz and many others.
“This has been perfect timing, and it is much needed,” said Cindy Caines, director of constituency engagement for Wake Forest Baptist Health. Caines said that Fuel the Fight meals have gone to the hospital’s ER, ICU and the department of environmental services, which is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting hospital areas.
Laura Holby, Novant’s director of community engagement for Winston-Salem, said that the Fuel the Fight team has been particularly good to work with.
“They’ve been so well organized and quick to respond,” Holby said. “They’ve fed a good chunk of Forsyth Medical Center, and they’ve fed all of Forsyth Medical Park. This has been a big help to team members. They have a lot going on, so this is one less thing for them to worry about.”
Poretsky and the Cavenaughs said that now that they have met their initial goal of $30,000, they are not sure how long they will continue.
“One gift of this whole thing has been learning that there are lot of good organizations in Winston-Salem that are helping out,” Evan Cavenaugh said. “We say around the house that this was pop-up philanthropy. We never really meant it to be long-term.”
Right now, they expect their money to run out by the end of next week.
But, they added, their GoFundMe page is still accepting donations.
And as long as they have money to spend, they’ll keep feeding hospital employees.
“Two things have stuck out to me the most through this,” Poretsky said. “First is that so many restaurants were interested in working with us; and, second, how amazing the Winston-Salem community has been overall. Seeing the community come together in this dark time has really been great.”
Chamber of commerce officials here are emphasizing that many retail businesses can be open under current stay-at-home orders as long as they observe social distancing and other requirements.
Greater Winston-Salem Inc. released a one-page list of guidelines on Friday as a service to business operators, now that all parts of the county are under the rules set by Gov. Roy Cooper in various executive orders.
Mark Owens, the president and chief executive of the chamber, said he hopes the guidelines can clear up any confusion business owners have about whether or not they can be open.
The chamber’s information sheet doesn’t create or reveal any new regulations. And some businesses, like dine-in restaurants, hair salons, bowling alleys and movie theaters, among others are still forbidden to open.
The timing is right to publicize the rules for businesses, Owens said, because civic leaders are turning their focus more on reopening the economy.
“We wanted to take the pieces of the executive orders and put together a more clear and concise way to understand: Can I open? And if I can, what measures do I need to take?” Owens said.
Winston-Salem repealed its own stay-at-home order on Wednesday, placing the city under the Cooper regulations. And almost immediately there were differing interpretations about how significant the changes were.
Some county officials, including Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts and Gordon Watkins, the county attorney, interpreted the city change as opening up more possibilities for retail businesses to open. That’s because the state rules have a provision specifically allowing retail businesses to operate as long as they practice the social distancing and other requirements.
The order passed by the city did not have that specific exemption. The city’s order was duplicated temporarily by the county. When the city repealed its order, the chamber of commerce noted that under the Cooper orders, furniture and clothing stores could open.
But Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity and Angela Carmon, the city attorney, said that in practice there was no significant difference between the city and state rules.
If a business owner called the city to ask if it could be open, they said, the city nearly always found a provision that would allow them to be open.
“There may have been furniture stores who thought they had to close for other reasons, and we did not tell them to close,” Garrity said. “Furniture stores would have been deemed essential (by the city). Hobby Lobby closed and reopened. We told JC Penny they could reopen last week. We never told them they had to close.”
Carmon said the only business ruled unable to open involved a second-hand inquiry relating to a photography studio. Carmon said she couldn’t find an exemption for that person from among the city’s many exceptions to the close order.
“I know there was a flower shop that had decided to close,” she said. “They asked me, and I found a provision and told them they could stay open. Even the mattress stores: there’s a provision to allow them to open.”
When Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines rescinded the city’s stay-at-home order, he called the city order “substantially similar” to that of the state.
“We had always taken the position that ours was pretty general as well,” Joines said. “When we had a business to call, we generally found room for them to be able to open.”
But Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said she was surprised to learn recently that retail businesses could open under the governor’s order, as long as they met the social distancing and other requirements.
Whisenhunt worries that there are businesses close to going under that could have stayed open.
“I don’t think people knew that,” Whisenhunt said. The retail business rules came up during a meeting of a committee that is working on how to go about reopening the economy here once coronavirus restrictions start lifting.
“We decided as a committee to share this with the community, that this is where it stands now,” she said. “Here is my bottom line: if we could share this information, some of these small businesses could open up and they might not go bankrupt.”
Forsyth County had also passed a stay-at-home order like the one made by the city, although the county ordered expired on April 16. At that point the county was under the state order.
Owens noted that with a variety of orders having been in place not only in the city and county as well as towns, it was a good idea for the chamber to coordinate a list outlining just where things stand.
The chamber release of guidelines was coordinated with the Kernersville and Lewisville-Clemmons chambers of commerce.
“We thought it was a good time now to help our businesses realize in a succinct way how to open if they can,” Owens said, adding that businesses all over the state are waiting to see when Cooper will proceed with the phased reopening process he’s promised.
“We will follow this with more information on the phasing process,” Owens said.
Whether someone staying in a hotel room can be forced out for non-payment during the COVID-19 freeze on evictions might be a gray area of the law, but it didn’t seem very gray to Brandy VanRiper on Friday.
VanRiper said she ran out of money, and on Friday was being told she had to leave unless she could come up with her daily payment of $57 for a hotel room in Winston-Salem.
VanRiper pointed to her belongings in a tote bag as she talked about her fears.
“I have nowhere to go,” she said Friday morning. “No car to put it in and nowhere to take it. I have reached out to several people in the community. Everyone said they can help me with a deposit on permanent housing...”
Ed Sharp, an attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina, said hotel evictions are a significant problem all over the state.
“It’s becoming a much bigger problem because of COVID,” Sharp said.
A 1991 appeals court decision found that the state’s landlord-tenant laws protect some hotel or motel occupants when they use their rooms as their primary residence, even though they are not staying there under a written lease.
The court didn’t leave the state with cut-and-dried rules for determining whether or not a hotel occupant was a tenant. According to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, in a recent letter to hotel operators, that decision is one that depends on “fact-intensive” inquiry and “evaluating all relevant circumstances.”
Sharp said the attorney general’s letter has been helpful as Legal Aid goes to bat for hotel guests it feels qualify as tenants.
“If we believe that a hotel or motel resident, as opposed to a guest, is being thrown out illegally, we generally try to talk to the manager, or police, and explain our view of things that this person is a resident, and try to convince them not to go through with throwing this person out,” Sharp said.
In some cases, Sharp said, Legal Aid has no option but to go to court to obtain a temporary restraining order to stop the eviction.
“It is pretty common that the manager will say, I will give them an extra couple of days,” Sharp said. “They usually back down when they realize the courts may be getting involved.”
To be clear, Legal Aid does not give out the names of hotel guests it is helping, and it could not be confirmed whether or not the group intends to help VanRiper.
VanRiper later got help from a local charity to stay the night on Friday, but worried about the next day. She said her husband has gotten a good-paying job in Asheville but hasn’t gotten his first paycheck yet. She just needs to bridge a couple weeks of income, she said. She moved into the hotel in February and has been staying there since then.
Her own job, waiting tables, vanished in the COVID-19 shutdown, and she hadn’t had the job long enough to qualify for unemployment, she said.
Andrea Thompson, speaking for the hotel chain, said Friday afternoon that VanRiper’s “situation has been addressed” and that she “has not been evicted and HomeTowne Studios continues to work with her.” Asked what that means for VanRiper’s future stay at the hotel, Thompson said the property belongs to an independent franchise that is “working with the guest as it relates to this situation.”
Andrea Kurtz, the senior director of housing strategies for the United Way of Forsyth County, said there’s been an explosion of hotel evictions during the coronavirus crisis.
People who live in hotels are often service workers, and they are a class of folks who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 shutdowns. These residents are often off the radar to social services agencies, she said, because they have typically been making enough money to meet their needs, at least until recently.
People who live in hotels often don’t realize their rights or get intimidated into leaving when they run into a money crunch, she said.
“The motel owners hold most of the power,” she said. “We have seen them change locks, clean out rooms, turn off power and electricity — the same kind of illegal tactics we see traditional landlords using.”
Kurtz said hotel tenants have told her that when police show up, they often inform the resident that it’s a civil problem, “which leaves the tenant with unenforceable rights in that moment.”
“Faced with escalating behaviors or leaving, many of them just leave because they are intimidated,” Kurtz said.
Winston-Salem police recently issued a press release stating that it does not carry out evictions. The release said police do get called out for various reasons to hotels and motels.
“If the call turns out to be from a hotel/motel indicating they want a non-paying guest to leave, the officer will investigate the facts of the situation to determine whether the individual should be considered a guest or a tenant,” the release stated.
If it is not clear, the release goes on to state, police don’t require the guest to leave, but tell the inn owner that they are free to pursue trespass charges through the magistrate’s office.
In Forsyth County, a COVID-19 relief fund gave $100,000 to Legal Aid to help with tenancy issues, including mediation of hotel and motel tenancy matters.
While Legal Aid doesn’t typically take cases that hinge only on non-payment, in Forsyth County the agency is able to do so.
Dan Rose, with the group Housing Justice Now, has been involved in VanRiper’s case as well as with others facing eviction. Rose said police need to be held more accountable in their role dealing with these cases.
“The hotel operators and police appear to have been working together to un-house vulnerable people during this pandemic,” he said. “That is a contradiction to the police statement they made last week. We are going to hold the police accountable to their words and stop these wrongful evictions.”