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Restaurants focus on takeout and other adjustments as COVID-19 crisis widens

Restaurants in Winston-Salem are starting to see slowdowns related to the COVID-19 crisis, and many are trying to switch operations to takeout and delivery to promote social distancing to keep employees and customers safe.

Most are trying to stay open as long as they can to keep their servers and other workers employed.

Some are gearing up for more takeout, curbside service and delivery, but some have closed their dining rooms. Some have closed entirely.

“It’s just too dangerous,” said Chris Michael, a co-owner of Yamas Mediterranean Street Food, Cin Cin Burger Bar, Mama Zoe Michael’s and Waldo’s Wings. Michael closed Yamas and Cin Cin on Monday and expected to close Mama Zoe and Waldo’s today.

“It’s very sad. The worst part for me is putting my employees out,” Michael said. “But I don’t want to put anyone in danger. It’s not worth it.”

Other restaurants that have closed include Muddy Creek Café & Music Hall in Winston-Salem, and its sister restaurant in Sparta. Bars also began to close, including Tate’s Craft Cocktails and Bar Pena.

Of those restaurants staying open, most are offering curbside service with credit-card purchases so that customers do not need to enter the dining room.

West End Coffeehouse and Camino Bakery took the preemptive step of closing their seating areas.

“You are welcome to call and place an order over the phone and we will bring it out to your car for curbside pickup. You can also place an order through Grubhub if you’d prefer,” West End Coffeehouse said in a Facebook post. “We would also appreciate if you could pay for all orders with a credit card, but we understand that is not always possible.”

Places that already specialize in takeout, such as J and J Food Mart on South Broad Street, seem to be doing good business, but are preparing for the worst. “Our weekend was very good. Sunday was just a little off,” said George Barghout, the owner of J and J, a convenience store that sells a lot of fried chicken out of its kitchen in the back.

But he’s preparing for the worst — that the government will force him to close. “I’ll look for any loophole to stay open,” Barghout said. “But I’m already cutting back on my ordering, going day by day and getting just the essentials.”

Dave Hillman, who owns two Burke Street Pizzas, Quiet Pint Tavern and the new West End Poke, said that business was pretty good through Sunday brunch. “Quiet Pint had a good brunch, but Sunday night was dead,” he said.

He hopes that if a shutdown happens, his pizza restaurants will do OK with takeout and delivery, but he doubts that Quiet Pint and West End Poke would generate enough takeout revenue to make it worth remaining open.

Adam Andrews, who owns Jeffrey Adams and Young Cardinal Café, also has cut back on orders from suppliers in case of a shutdown. But he’s trying to stay open as long as he can. On Monday, he opened Young Cardinal on a night when it is normally closed. He also offered customers half-price meals at Jeffrey Adams to encourage people to eat out. “I’m doing half-price for two reasons: one, to get rid of my inventory, and, most important, I want people to come tip my servers.”

Kathleen Barnes of 6th and Vine said that many of her regular customers came out over the weekend in a show of support, in case the restaurant is forced to shut down. “One of them left a $100 tip,” Barnes said.

Many restaurants were tweaking or creating new menus to make them more conducive to family-friendly takeouts. At 1703, a fine-dining restaurant, Chef Curtis Hackaday was making big batches of stews and casseroles, sold by the pint or the pound. “I’m trying to do things that can freeze or just be popped in the oven,” he said.

Items on 1703’s takeout list included beef bourguignon, chicken enchilada casserole, lasagna and squash casserole.

He said that 1703, whose dining room is still open, had a good weekend in the restaurant. The noticeable change, he said, was in the number of cancelations from catering clients.

Diamondback Grill was simultaneously ramping up sanitizing and other safety procedures in its dining room while expanding its takeout menu. “Starting Monday, we are going to be accepting pre-orders for family-style casserole dishes,” Diamondback announced on Facebook.

Diamondback’s takeout menu includes such items as meatloaf, lasagna and chicken and dumplings. “When you pull up to the pick-up area on the side, just give us a ring and we’ll be out with your food,” the announcement said.

Similarly, Silo Bistro & Bar began offering family meals for four for takeout. Monday’s offerings included a choice of taco salad or vegan chili.

Several chefs and restaurant owners likened last weekend to the last hurrah, with customers letting loose in the knowledge that they might not be able to do it again anytime soon.

Schools open cafeterias for free meals for children; laptops, wireless devices passed out over next two days

Over the next two days, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will pass out more than 18,000 laptops and set up 4,000 mobile hotspots for school children to get them up to speed for Thursday’s big move from brick-and-mortar to digital classrooms.

“The word of the week is unprecedented,” said Sam Mills, the chief of staff for Superintendent Angela Hairston.

Mills gave an overview of what transpired among school officials over the last few days and a preview of what’s ahead at a specially called meeting of the school board on Monday.

Though the spread of the new coronavirus has accelerated, school officials had enough time to put together a plan for feeding and educating 50,000-plus students in preparation for the statewide shutdown ordered by Gov. Roy Cooper on Saturday. The implementation of that plan began Monday with more than 1,200 meals served at schools across the county. Mills said he expects the number of meals to increase with 16 buses set to head into the community at various sites.

School officials will close some sites Tuesday and open cafeterias in areas where they see the most need. The meals are free for children 18 and under. Adults can buy meals for $1 for breakfast and $2 for lunch.

Joanne Kirven, the assistant director of child nutrition, said plans are changing quickly as officials adjust to the needs of students.

She encouraged people to check the school system’s website for the latest information at www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/Page/115299.

“The key thing is that the goal posts are always moving,” Kirven said.

Meanwhile, teachers reported to work on Monday and will spend the next two days preparing to teach their classes remotely.

A survey that was finished before Monday’s meeting gave a picture of the technological needs of students. The school system has 48,000 Chromebooks, so it has more than enough to loan to 18,000 students. The survey also showed a need for 4,000 mobile hotspots for students lacking wireless capability.

The board approved spending $1.2 million in federal funds for a 15-month contract with Kajeet for the mobile hotspots. The company specializes in servicing schools, with each hotspot including such features as filters and a control that cuts off wireless usage from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Kajeet requires a 12-month subscription for the hotspots, and the school board agreed that it would be worthwhile to provide wireless access once the pandemic subsides to students in need through the next school year.

The school system had $1.4 million in unused Title IV funds, a pot of federal money earmarked for technology.

Digital learning will be aimed at students from third through 12th grades. Students from kindergarten through second grade will have non-technical activities that students and their caregivers can do together.

“It won’t be, ‘Here’s a packet of worksheets to turn back in when you’re done,’ “ Mills said.

Since Sunday, between 10 and 15 staff members — including six Spanish speakers — at central office have manned a hotline to answer questions. The number of calls jumped from 661 calls on Sunday to 1,782 on Monday. The hotline will remain open for the duration of the shutdown. That number is (336) 661-3128.

The school board also approved giving Hairston the power to make some decisions on local policy that don’t involve finances. Such decisions would include changes to the school calendar, teacher workdays and make-up work.

Malishai Woodbury, the school board chairman, asked the public for patience as the school system works through the challenges.

“If we continue to lift up one another and be patient and kind, I think we will excel beyond these stress points,” she said.

State health officials press for people to follow guidelines to avoid spreading coronavirus as COVID-19 cases hit 33 in North Carolina

State health officials said Monday they are not at the point of recommending that bars, fitness centers and restaurants close because of the virus that causes COVID-19.

State health director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson said Monday afternoon that individuals and businesses are being asked to follow federal guidelines from Sunday that called for no more than 50 people at a gathering for the next eight weeks.

However, guidelines issued later Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for gatherings not to exceed 10 people for the next 15 days. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to the stricter guidance.

Governors in Illinois and Ohio have ordered restaurants to stop providing dining services and convert to delivery and takeout.

“We are aware of the actions taken by some other states,” Tilson said when asked whether North Carolina is ready to take similar steps. “We asked that individuals and businesses follow the guidelines that have been laid out, recognizing that things are rapidly evolving and as the governor determines further actions are necessary, we will take them.”

The owners of Tate’s and Bar Pina in Winston-Salem said on Facebook they are closing their bars temporarily because of the pandemic.

“We are utterly grateful for the last 10 years of memories, and we look forward to many more,” according to the statement.

“Sadly, at this time that means closing our doors to ensure the safety of our staff and guests to make sure that we’re ready for the good times to come. We’ll keep you updated … Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and we’ll be ready with a smile, and a drink when the time comes.”

More cases found

Tilson said North Carolina “is just not there” for instituting a curfew or lockdown. She said the executive order banning public gatherings of more than 100 individuals is in effect.

Meanwhile, Watauga County’s first presumed case of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported by state health officials.

On Monday, Campbell University in Harnett County reported one presumed case of COVID-19 had been identified on the main campus. The student is in isolation. Two others have also been asked to self-quarantine, one whose initial test was negative and another who is awaiting results.

DHHS reported Monday there is one new case, raising the state’s total to 33. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that 39 people have been diagnosed in the state.

No deaths have been reported in North Carolina and there is only one individual who has been hospitalized.

There are no new reported cases in Forsyth County beyond the two disclosed last week.

Tilson said that, as of Monday morning, the State Laboratory of Public Health has tested 329 people for the new coronavirus. That’s up from 160 on Saturday morning.

A “presumed positive” result means the patient has tested positive at the state level but is awaiting confirmation by the CDC.

The state public health system has access to test about another 1,300 individuals, along with those tests being administered by private laboratories, such as LabCorp.

Cases have been found in 14 counties, primarily in the Triangle and along the southeastern corner of the state.

The majority of cases remain in the Triangle area, with at least 11 cases in Wake County. Forsyth and Mecklenburg counties are the only other counties with more than one positive case.

In addition to Watauga and Harnett, other counties are in Brunswick, Cabarrus, Chatham, Craven, Durham, Johnston, Onslow, Wayne and Wilson.

Tilson said there has been no documentation of the spreading within a community. Rather, people who traveled to other areas are infected.

Testing still remains dedicated to individuals who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 — individuals who are experiencing severe respiratory and other viral symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath and a sore throat.

Most of those individuals will be tested first for other possible causes of their illness, such as flu or strep.

DHHS recommended Thursday that long-term and assisted-living care facilities not allow visitors “with the exception of end-of-life situations or other emergent situations determined by the facility to necessitate the visit.”

Recommendations also include: not allowing any visitors with respiratory illness; screening visitors for symptoms of acute respiratory illness at the entrance of the facility; instruct visitors to limit movement within the facility; and maintain a log of all visitors who enter COVID-19 resident rooms.

Hunt for toilet paper

Although guidelines and recommendations kept changing on Monday, for some people the day’s quest came to a more narrow focus: find toilet paper.

Some people scored toilet paper Monday morning and others were left without, as rumors spread like a virus in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Public officials have advised people not to buy more than they need in the wake of emptying store shelves over the weekend. President Donald Trump on Sunday assured Americans, after speaking with leading grocery-chain executives, that grocers would remain open and that the supply chain remained healthy.

Sam’s Plus members who visited the Sam’s Club on Hanes Mall Boulevard were able to get toilet paper after the 7 a.m. opening, though the stack of tissue dwindled quickly and was depleted by mid-morning. Workers said they didn’t know when more might come in.

Dena Barker lucked out as she shopped for church members at Westside Christian Church. She got toilet paper and other things on her list. “The oddity is that I am not stocking up,” she said, adding she thinks people are “blowing this way out of proportion.”

“This is just normal shopping,” she said. “I said, ‘if it is there, it is there.’ It was a pretty good stack.”

In the parking lot nearby, Janise Hurley said she got paper towels, but said people shouldn’t hoard. “I wish they would leave it there so people can get it,” she said.

At Costco on Hanes Mall Boulevard, Tammy Taylor said she had heard the store was getting a shipment of toilet paper at 4:30 a.m.

Taylor was in line with other people at Costco, although it turned out that no toilet paper was available. Employees marked up a whiteboard and placed it near the entrance to show which items were out and which were running low.

The out-of-stock items included paper towels, rice, canned chicken, facial tissues and various soaps and disinfectants. The store said it was running low on water, diapers, milk, cough medicine and dog food.

The shortages didn’t stop a long line from stretching from the front door. An employee told the people in line at one point that they did not need their carts because they would be given one inside that had been wiped down.

“I came Saturday and there was no parking,” said Claire Simon, one of the first in line at Costco. “I just want to get a couple toilet papers for elderlies who can’t make it out.”

Fender-bender? Call police after all. City backs away from COVID-19 plan that limited officer response.

Police will still be responding to minor traffic accidents after all, as Winston-Salem on Monday reversed course on a new policy that would have kept officers away from fender benders during the coronavirus pandemic.

City Manager Lee Garrity said that because a police report is required on motor-vehicle accidents involving $1,000 or more in damages, the new policy was reversed so that police will be responding to all motor-vehicle accidents.

The intent of the new policy, which was announced only on Sunday, was to keep the maximum number of officers available for duty, during a period in which the city expects more officers than usual to be out because of illness or family needs.

City officials also figured the new policy would reduce the number of public encounters that officers had, making it less likely officers would themselves get sick from the virus.

That’s also the motivation behind a policy change that suspends firefighters from answering medical calls at assisted-living centers, Garrity said. That policy remains in effect, with the calls being handled by Emergency Medical Services personnel.

“You don’t want to have it to where firefighters went in and got exposed and then had to go into quarantine,” Garrity said. “The EMS is the primary medical response. It preserves the firefighters for fighting fires.”

Emergency medical staffers are wearing rubber gloves and masks when they respond to to emergencies, said Tim Black, the interim director of Forsyth County Emergency Services.

The city is encouraging people to deal with city offices as much as possible online or over the phone. Those who do come to City Hall or the Stuart Municipal Building will be queried by the security guard and helped in the lobby if possible, Garrity said.

With recreation centers closed, Garrity said, custodians at those locations have been reassigned to the bus station to help with cleaning and disinfecting.

“We are literally cleaning doorknobs four times a day, and even more often in public transit places,” Garrity said.

The Winston-Salem Transit Authority said it would continue to operate under a normal schedule. If that becomes no longer possible, officials said, they will work to inform riders in a timely manner.

Both the city and Forsyth County were working out ways for their employees to cope and still serve the public. That included making arrangements for working at home, limiting contact and keeping social distance.

County Manager Dudley Watts said a debate went back and forth over whether to close the libraries or not, with the decision made to keep them open even while cancelling public programs. Watts said the library is too important a resource to close.

“I would ask citizens to not go there just to hang out,” Watts said. “If there’s a way they can get served without coming in, that is best. If people will call, the library will pulls books off the shelf and have them at the counter.”

Elizabeth Skinner, the library’s interim director, said the checkout period for books and audiobooks has been extended from three to five weeks, and that fines on DVDs are waived until May 25.

The library is working on creating online story times and book-club discussions, Skinner said. Information on what the library can offer at a distance, including homework and tutoring help, is available on the library website.

“We’d like to remind people that our virtual library branch is open 24-7,” she said. “Through our online resources, people can access ebooks, audiobooks, music, genealogical research, magazines and newspapers and numerous databases.”

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County said that starting today there would be no public access to the Rhodes Center for the Arts and Hanesbrands Theatre, with exhibitions, performances and events canceled or postponed.

Winston-Salem Journal offices temporarily closed to public as a coronavirus precaution

The Winston-Salem Journal office at 418 N. Marshall St. is temporarily closed to the public as a precaution to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

If you need to contact the Journal, here is a list of numbers:

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Obituaries: 336-727-7398 or obits@wsjournal.com.

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