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Schools open hotline, prepare for remote learning in Winston-Salem/Forsyth

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has announced meal sites, schedules for picking up remote learning devices and has an information hotline for parents to call-in and get information about the system closure, after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered that all schools close for at least two weeks because of COVID-19.

The hotline opened Sunday and will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during the closure. The number is 336-661-3128. There will be help available in English and Spanish.

“The calls have been helpful to allow us to respond to questions, and reassure parents,” said Angela Hairston, the school system superintendent on Sunday afternoon.

The school system is transitioning to a remote learning environment, at least temporarily.

There were 32 known cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina as of Sunday morning, including two in Forsyth County, according to state health officials.

All school cafeterias will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. beginning Monday for parents to pick-up breakfast and lunch, at the same time. The meals are free for children 18 and under. Adults can buy meals for $1 for breakfast and $2 for lunch.

“We hope parents will pace themselves, so we are not overwhelmed,” Hairston said.

The backpack program, where students are given a backpack with food for weekends, and other times when school is not in session, will continue. Hairston said that she has heard that there are groups who are planning to have community dinners to help.

Brent Campbell, the system’s chief marketing and communications officer, said that later this week the system plans to begin using bus drivers to deliver meals.

Schools will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday for parents to pick up personal items that were left at school.

For students who need internet service and devices to be able to use for the remote learning, parents should call the hotline or fill out the eLearning Survey and request form on the system’s website by 5 p.m. Monday.

“One of the things that we’ve been getting today are requests for service,” she said.

Families who have requested devices and/or hotspots can pick up the equipment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at their child’s school. Kindergarten through second grade students will not be using online learning and there will be literacy activity and resources available for them. The resources should last two weeks.

E-Learning will begin Thursday and students should be prepared for it. They should hear from their teachers through the PowerSchool Learning Management System.

For students who live in areas where internet service is not available, students will be given hard copies of schoolwork.

Another group of people that the system is making plans for are the volunteers.

“We need a day to coordinate so we’ll have information for the volunteers Tuesday,” Hairston said.

There will be a board of education meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in the auditorium of the WS/FCS Education Building, 4801 Bethania Station Road, Winston-Salem. Attendance will be limited to less than 100 people. The board will receive updates on the efforts to prevent COVID-19 spread. They will also discuss the potential of waiving some board policies and procedures.

On Friday night, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines declared a state of emergency, giving the city the ability to enact “a variety of different restrictions and/or prohibitions” as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve.

More importantly, the declaration makes the city eligible for federal and state emergency funds

The declaration formally requests that “all residents, visitors, businesses and establishments within the city of Winston-Salem follow any and all directives and recommendations set forth by the North Carolina Governor’s Office, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.”

Forsyth County also declared a state of emergency.

Displaced by flood, threatened by virus, residents band together at Hosanna House in Winston-Salem

Lunch had just ended at Sandra Sherrill’s modest home. Sandwiches on white bread, simple fare, eaten off paper plates.

About a dozen people, nearly all men and challenged with some type of disability, had settled Friday afternoon into the living room.

Some opted for seats on a well-worn sofa. Others eased into walkers or wheelchairs. A few stepped out onto a small front porch to smoke or finish off sodas.

Many of the faces we’d seen before.

Remember those awful rains from early February and the heart-breaking scenes showing distressed folks, some with oxygen tanks, being evacuated from the low-lying Liberty Landing Apartments on Bethania Station Road?

Eighteen of them, most with nowhere else to go, wound up staying on cots, couches and bed rolls in Sherrill’s bungalow on 21st Street — headquarters for Hosanna House, her one-woman nonprofit.

“What else were we going to do?” Sherrill asked. “The God I met when I needed him didn’t turn me out, so we couldn’t turn anyone else out.

“I don’t think about what I've got to lose.

You can get stuff back, but you can’t get another person.”

Now a new threat, coronavirus/COVID-19, is bearing down and threatens devastating consequences to the disenfranchised.

Not at the top

The spread of coronavirus hasn’t yet worried most of Sherrill’s guests. It may in coming days, but for now, there are too many other, more pressing needs.

“It’s just not at the top of the list. It’s here, it’s out there,” said Demetrius Lundy, an aide who was helping with lunch. “We’re trusting the Lord will provide.”

Most of the displaced have found new apartments and rooms. Some are around the corner in a house on Ontario Street and others doubled up in apartments out on Motor Road. Managers at Liberty Landing are moving people in as quickly as vacancies open up.

As lunch was settling Friday — most, if not all, of the displaced still come to Sherrill’s home to take meals and socialize — folks looked back on everything that has transpired in one short month.

They were more than happy to talk about where they’d been — and where they’d like to go. Mostly they were pleased not to have been forgotten or discarded after such traumatic upheaval.

“It was scary being held up and moved in those canoes,” said Eddie Dee Allen, recounting being moved to safety by Winston-Salem firefighters the morning of Feb. 6. “I knew we couldn’t stay there.”

That first night, the displaced residents were well tended to by the Red Cross, whose volunteers set up a temporary shelter in a city recreational center.

After a day or so, Sherrill decided to move all 18 of them into her own home. “I was scared we might lose some,” she said.

The Hosanna House, her non-profit, is essentially a faith-based nonprofit that aims to help provide stable housing for the disabled, people trying to adjust after being released from prison and those struggling with addictions.

It also provides meals, activities, rides to and from various medical appointments and group meetings for those recovering from substance abuse issues.

Sherrill, 62, has been working at this for 21 years now. She says it’s her calling, and didn’t hesitate to set it up in the house where she was raised.

“I was born for this,” she said. “I’ve been sober since 1988, April 17. I always wanted to help people. If you can see it, you can be it.

“If you can get people hope, God can do the rest.”

For money, Hosanna House basically pools meager Social Security and disability payments. That covers food, rent, utilities and transportation.

That’s not to say she wasn’t worried that Thursday morning in February when she got word that floodwaters were rising at Liberty Landing — the second such catastrophe since October 1988.

“I think I just thought about how we were going to manage and that we were just going to do what we always do,” Sherrill said.

That would be to survive. Most of those served by Hosanna House have lived through worse.

Residents unafraid

Shawn Almond, who at age 23, was by far the youngest in the group, perked right up when asked about his memories from the recent flood.

“The water came up so fast, it was frightening,” he said. “It was mud colored.”

He spent a night at the recreation center, then several more weeks on a cot set up in the living room. “I was a little scared about where we were going to go.”

Almond settled down when he realized that everybody was going to stay together with Sherrill.

Every night, wheelchairs and walkers were moved to the front porch. Cots were set up side by side in the living room and in the basement, where for years Sherrill and her mother ran a beauty shop.

A few got spots on couches, and Kimberly Rosenberg, the only woman in the group, landed the extra bedroom. “I’m lucky,” she said.

Obviously, the arrangement made for cramped quarters and a few frayed nerves. But day by day, little by little, people moved to new places — Almond being one of them.

“Me and Donald are around the corner,” he said. “I been there two nights. I slept like a log.”

He’s not particularly concerned about coronavirus, either. Floodwater you can see; the threat is immediate. A virus is invisible, and outside the basic hygienic recommendations — wash your hands, avoid large crowds — being pushed in every corner, there’s little his small community can do.

“We’ll clean and wipe down more like everybody else,” Sherrill said.

Besides, where would they go? They’ve been displaced en masse once. What would they do? Who’d help look after them?

The truth is, they’ve come to rely upon one another.

“I’m not scared,” Rosenberg said. “We always lived as a community. We know each other’s spirits. We need each other.”

PHOTOS: Hosanna House of Transition

Recreation centers close. Firefighters won't respond to assisted living centers. Here’s a list of COVID-19 measures taken by the City of Winston-Salem.

Following Mayor Allen Joines’ state of emergency announcement Friday, city officials have announced additional closings and changes that involve city facilities and employees.

For city employees who have trouble finding day care for their children, because of the closure of schools and some day-care centers, department heads have been given the authority to develop alternate work schedules and shifts to make sure that there are enough staff members to cover essential city services.

In addition, the following closing and changes were announced:

  • All city recreation centers will be closed until further notice. All programs and activities including after school and WePlay day camps, and the senior feeding program are closed.
  • The buildings at Bethabara Park, Salem Lake and the Joe White Tennis Center are closed, but the park grounds will remain open. Winston Lake and Reynolds Park golf courses are open because of limited employee contact with the public.
  • The Winston-Salem Fairgrounds, the Benton Convention Center, BB&T Ballpark and Bowman Gray Stadium are closed.
  • City Hall and the Bryce A. Stuart Municipal Building will operate during regular business hours for critical city business that cannot be done online or on the phone.

Residents who need to make utilities or other payments should use the city’s online payment system. Payment by check or cash can be made at the city’s drive-through payment windows at the Stuart building or the Black-Philips-Smith Government Office, 2301 N. Patterson Ave., Winston-Salem. There is also a night depository at the Stuart Building near the Church Street employee entrance.

  • Contractors should apply for permits online or by phone. They should use the city’s electronic plan review and permitting system to minimize in-person meetings with city staff.
  • Residents can call City Link (311) to set up water service.
  • City Link will be open to receive requests, process payments and provide information.
  • Existing housing rehabilitation projects will continue. The Community Development Department will suspend accepting new applications, including emergency repairs, until further notice.
  • The Community Development Department will also suspend code enforcement activities except in cases that involve life-threatening concerns.
  • The Human Resources Department will be closed to walk-ins for job applications.
  • The police department will continue to respond to life-threatening emergencies, serious crimes in progress, crimes against persons, death investigations and other calls for service. Sunday, the city said police will not respond to minor traffic accidents with no injuries. It now appears that is not the case and that officers will continue that response.
  • The fire department has suspended response to medical calls at assisted living facilities. Forsyth County Emergency Medical Services will provide first response for these calls.
  • The Winston-Salem Transit Authority will continue to provide bus service on all routes. Enhanced sanitation routines are in place.