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N.C. governor orders all public schools to close because of COVID-19, bans public gatherings of over 100 people

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Saturday requiring all public schools in the state to close for at least two weeks beginning Monday as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order to close came hours after Wake County Schools and Johnston County Schools announced they would close starting Monday. A Wake County teacher is among the 23 known cases of COVID-19 statewide, according to various media outlets.

“This is a decision that no one wanted to see happen, but it is a decision that is necessary for the health and safety of our educators and students,” N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson wrote in a tweet. “We will continue to notify you all with the latest news. Please stay safe and vigilant during this time.”

Before Saturday’s announcement, all high school sports statewide had been canceled or postponed. Many school systems had canceled all extracurricular activities, such as proms or after-school clubs.

In addition to the school closures, Cooper ordered that all events with an expected attendance of more than 100 people be canceled. He had previously recommended that those events not be held but is now requiring it through his executive order.

Exemptions to the mass-gathering ban include, in part, office environments, restaurants, retail or grocery stores, shopping malls, medical facilities and libraries.

Violations are punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board plans to meet Monday to discuss how best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and possible procedures in the days ahead.

Starting today, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is making a hotline available, in English and Spanish, for parents and students who have questions about the closure. The hotline — 336-661-3128 — is available from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m..

In the past week, the school system announced its plan to provide students with mobile devices and, for those who need them, internet hot spots if in-person classes were canceled in favor of online instruction.

Students should be prepared for online learning to begin Thursday, according to Brent Campbell, a spokesman for the school systems. Families without computers or at-home internet connectivity should fill out the school system’s “eLearning Survey” on its website, www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us. On Monday school officials will provide further details about how to obtain loaner devices.

“It’s a wonderful thing that our children will be able to learn and still be the safe at the same time,” said Val Young, the president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators. “We’re doing the best we can in a situation we’ve never had before. We’re just concerned with the safety of our staff and our students.”

School officials are working on finalizing plans to feed the approximately 30,000 students who qualify for free breakfast and lunch at schools — oftentimes the only meals those students eat. Starting Tuesday, certain schools in Forsyth County will open their cafeterias for breakfast and lunch, and some buses will deliver meals along yet-to-be-determined bus routes and stops. More information about the plan to feed students will be available Monday.

The school system has 39 schools where all students can get free breakfast and lunch because of income levels in their communities. During the summer and when emergencies close schools, the U.S. Department of Agriculture pays the school system to open those 39 schools in order to feed anyone in the community up to age 18.

“We’re always concerned about how our children will eat and the inconvenience to the parents,” Young said. “The inconvenience does not outweigh how bad it could be if we don’t act.”

On Saturday morning, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported eight new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 23. Cooper said all known cases are a result of physical contact and there is no community spread, yet.

“I do think the fact that we’ve not had community spread in N.C. is a good thing; we want to slow down the spread of the infection,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. “Social distancing, cleaning surfaces is slowing the spread. We will continue to watch the number of cases.”

There are no new reported cases in Forsyth County, but that could change since not all of tests have been analyzed yet. In total, the State Laboratory of Public Health has tested 160 people for the new coronavirus as of Saturday morning, up from 101 people tested Friday. However, Cohen estimates that more than 500 tests have been completed with the assistance of LabCorp, a private company.

The majority of cases remain in the Triangle, with 11 cases in Wake County. Forsyth County, with two cases, remains the only county other than Wake with more than one positive case. There are three news cases in three coastal counties as the virus is starting to spread across the state.

The state lab has enough supplies to test another 560 people, the DHHS said.

“We were limited in the testing supplies that we need at the lab, and our team has been working night and day to increase testing,” Cohen said. “Our testing capacity is coming up. There are supply-chain issues, but we are increasing access.”

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 important, the declaration makes the city eligible for federal and state emergency funds to help cope with the disease.

Joines’ 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.

The virus is likely to continue to spread from person to person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has the potential to cause “widespread illness within the population of the city of Winston-Salem.”

The state of emergency will remain in effect until rescinded.

As the city and state continue to take precautionary actions to help slow the spread of disease, the nationwide total of COVID-19 cases continues to soar, with at least 1,694 cases reported Saturday,a 39% increase from Friday.


Business
Local restaurants, businesses heighten preventive measures to combat coronavirus

The early arrival of spring over the last week gave restaurateur Claire Calvin an opportunity to not only expand her outside dining options earlier than normal.

It also allowed the owner of The Porch Kitchen and Alma Mexicana and co-owner of Canteen Market & Bistro to apply her strategy for keeping customers and staffers safe while trying to manage the virus that causes COVID-19.

As the restaurants placed more tables and seating outside to take advantage of the warmer weather, they also spaced the indoor tables at least six feet apart.

The restaurants also went into hyper hygiene mode, requiring staff to more frequently wash their hands and sanitize their stations and tables.

Calvin, a chef, is following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that employees who are sick stay at home to the point that she uses an infrared thermometer to check temperatures like a parent checking their child.

All of which Calvin hopes will reassure and encourage customers, particularly those in the age-65 and older high-risk category, that it remains safe to dine out.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best” with any coronavirus exposure or outbreak locally. “Everybody’s in the same boat.”

“People are being cautious, but they, and we, all have to live our lives,” Calvin said.

If that becomes too complicated or too risky, Calvin said she is preparing for a multi-week shutdown of Alma Mexicana and Canteen and a ramping up of her food-delivery business from The Porch.

Calvin’s Dinners on the Porch concept debuted in 2011 from the idea of providing busy families with a “home-cooked” meal after a hectic day.

The delivery area is limited to mainly central Winston-Salem neighborhoods, such as downtown, Ardmore, West End, Buena Vista and Sherwood Forest.

“We recognized there will be more people wanting delivery and takeout orders, so that could mean shifting from restaurant serving to food preparation and delivery,” Calvin said.

“We would apply the same sanitary and hygiene guidelines with our delivery personnel.”

Losses, gains

Between 60% to 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, said Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor at Arizona State University and an expert in global supply chains.

“If panic sets in and if you don’t go out, consumer spending is going to be hit, and that is what’s causing the stock market to behave the way it is,” Chaturvedi said.

“Small- and medium-sized businesses, that are the heart and soul of this country, are the ones that are going to be hit the hardest.”

Joseph Pawlak, managing principal with food-service industry group Technomic, said a customer survey conducted before the public-health shutdowns began found that “more than three in 10 consumers say they plan on leaving the house less often, not go to restaurants as often or not order food or beverages at away-from-home venues as often.”

“Among those who say they will not go to restaurant as often, 31% say that decreased frequency will last for between one and three months. It is interesting to note that only 13% believe that they will order more via restaurant delivery because of the crisis.”

Restaurants’ losses are projected to be grocery stores’ gain, Pawlak said.

“Almost half of these consumers say they will stockpile grocery foods and beverages as a substitute for away-from-home meals,” Pawlak said.

However, restaurant delivery and those with drive-through options can thrive because “these consumers may not have the cooking skills, the time, nor the desire to make more meals at home,” Pawlak said.

Pawlak said the survey found that customers would be willing to dine out if they felt restaurants are enhancing their sanitary policies and sick employees are staying home.

“Interestingly, 37% say that restaurants should operate ‘business as usual,’” Pawlak said.

“This indicates that many consumers are satisfied that food-service operators are as prepared as anyone to mitigate the impact of an outbreak.”

Changes

Consumers will have to make their grocery purchases earlier at some stores, such as Publix, which Saturday began closing nightly at 8 p.m.

“This will give our store teams time to conduct additional preventive sanitation and restock product on shelves,” the retailer said.

Harris Teeter will begin closing nightly at 9 beginning tonight, while Lowes Foods began opening today at 7 a.m.  and closing at 10 p.m. WalMart is going to operating from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. at its 24-hour stores.

Lowes Foods said its stores have gone beyond ramping up required sanitation procedures “to wiping down our hard surfaces more frequently. We continue to have sanitation wipes at the front of our store so our guests can wipe down their cart as they enter.”

“We know the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to limit social contact. We encourage guests to use our Lowes Foods to Go Service, and we will select the items and deliver them directly to their car.”

Lowes said it has “seen high demand on some products. We are working with our vendors to re-stock those items as quickly as possible.”

“We believe we will continue to see more people dining at home as the situation evolves. We are preparing our stores to be ready as that demand escalates.”

Marvin Ellison, president of Lowe’s Cos. Inc., said the home improvement retailer has had to limit customer purchases of high-demand items, such as masks and cleaning supplies.

“We’re working to keep our shelves stocked as quickly as possible,” Ellison said.

Because a good amount of what Lowe’s sells is delivered and/or installed by company or third-party vendors, he said it has expanded its hygiene protocols for those personnel.

Business issues

Local corporations with significant domestic and international business have been warning of the potential for lower revenue in the short term, whether from their supply chains being crimped or lower consumer demand for their products.

Kontoor Brands Inc., based in Greensboro with a major distribution center in Mocksville, said March 5 in its latest quarterly earnings report it is “carefully monitoring the coronavirus situation” for potential impact on employees and global operations.

“Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, we saw improved trends from holiday sales, both within the U.S. and international markets,” said Scott Baxter, the company’s president and chief executive.

“Based on information we have quarter-to-date, we anticipate a potential negative global impact of approximately 4 points to our first-quarter revenue, due mostly to our operations in China.”

In February, a majority of owned and partner retail stores in China were closed for the month, while most of the remaining stores saw very substantial reductions in traffic and comps.

In recent weeks, the number of those stores that have re-opened has surpassed 75%.

Kontoor said there are no material disruptions in either manufacturing or sourcing of materials. One third of Kontoor production is owned manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere.

However, it has chosen to hold off until the fall a major marketing push for Wrangler in China, which will now focus initially on digital advertising and social media rather than in-person events.

Wells Fargo & Co. disclosed Wednesday that an employee who works on the sixth floor at One Wells Fargo in Charlotte had been in prolonged, close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee is at home under monitoring. All employees who had been in close proximity with the employee have been asked to work from home.

The bank also said it is restricting all non-essential business air travel in the United States and globally, and requiring executive-level approval for any business air travel deemed essential.

Reynolds American Inc. said it has placed restrictions on international travel, specifically any travel to or from countries in the warning level 3 (29 European or North Africa countries) or alert level 2 (countries with community outbreaks) categories.

“Employees returning from those countries must work remotely from Reynolds American facilities for two weeks,” Reynolds spokeswoman Kaelan Hollon said.

“In addition, we are encouraging common-sense measures for all employees. including reducing domestic travel and attendance at conferences and large business gatherings.”

Inmar Intelligence also is limiting business travel, but working from home is not a new strategy for the Winston-Salem company, according to corporate communications official Sharon Joyner-Payne.

“As a technology company with locations across North America, we use technology every day to connect our teams and conduct business. As a result, we are well-positioned to adjust and respond as needed.”

Hotels

Although the only two Forsyth County presumed cases of coronavirus involves a couple returning from a cruise, it is taken, as expected, a toll on the local hospitality sector.

Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem, said that as of Friday, local hotels have reported more than 7,000 cancelled group room nights due to COVID-19. The bulk was related to out-of-state and international visitors.

Geiger said hotels are not counting room nights associated with High Point Market in that total since the trade show has been delayed from April 25-29 to unspecified dates in early June.

The market, which tends to average about 70,000 to 75,000 attendees for its spring show, has a significant spillover effect for Forsyth hospitality venues and restaurants.

“Just by the sheer nature of COVID-19, we are discovering that the impact changes on a daily basis,” Geiger said.

“We therefore are asking our hoteliers to report to us any group cancellations as it relates to the virus, as it occurs, so we can have a real time measure of impact.”

Geiger said the tourism bureau is “working closely with our state travel and tourism industry officials — Visit North Carolina, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association — to stay informed and keep us and our Forsyth County hospitality colleagues up to date on best practices.”

“We have reminded and been assured by our hotel and restaurant community that they upholding, and in most cases, exceeding health guidelines and hygiene standards,” Geiger said.

The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in downtown Winston-Salem said it and the Katharine restaurant is following corporate guidelines, including “ensuring hygiene standards and working closely with the respective authorities to minimize risks.”

“Our global cancellation policy waives cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally for stays between March 9 and April 30.

Meanwhile, High Point Market officials said the decision to push back the market by at least five weeks came with the realization “that any change in date could have tremendous economic repercussions on our industry and community, as well as the countless small businesses whose livelihoods relies on High Point Market.

“It underscores our shared concern and well-being of the citizens in our community and our industry partners.”

Staying safe

Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery LLC, based in Ronda, said it remains open to tourists “while taking additional precautions to keep everyone safe during this time ... and ensuring that we can maintain as much normalcy during this time in the safest and efficient way possible.”

Besides requiring sick employees to stay home, the winery said “staff will be continuously disinfecting all door handles, surfaces, faucets and all high traffic areas and we have added hand sanitizing stations in the tasting room and other public spaces.

“We do understand that some of you may be nervous about going out in public, and so we encourage you to visit our website and take advantage of online purchasing,” the winery said. “We can easily ship you your wine so you can stock up on your wine supply without leaving home.”

The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce is encouraging members to employ social-distancing techniques and limiting large gatherings to reduce the risk of transmission.

The chamber postponed its annual community-wide State of the Economy event slated for April 2, as well as postponing all chamber events through at least April 15.

“During this time, it is important for our community to support local businesses,” chamber president and chief executive Mark Owens said.

“Our restaurants, shops, service providers and other businesses are open and taking precautions to take care of their customers and employees.”


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We are dropping the paywall on coronavirus news stories

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Currently, our journalists are reporting the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that our journalism helps people make decisions and wade through the uncertainty that comes with challenging times. And because of the public health implications of the COVID-19 outbreak, we are lifting our paywall and providing unlimited access to our stories about the virus.

This includes stories about closings and cancellations, medical repercussions, the decision-making processes of community leaders, and much more. We provide expert advice and tips about how best to deal with the impact of the virus. You will see coronavirus content displayed high on our home page, as well as on the front page of our printed newspaper and the replica e-edition. Plus, we have a daily newsletter aggregating news you can use about COVID-19.

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Local
Coronavirus disrupts daily life in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County with cancellations of public and private events, meetings and local sports leagues

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted daily life in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County with cancellations of public and private events, meetings and sports leagues, as well as the closing of some public venues.

Officials at these venues say they are following state and federal guidelines to reduce the spread of coronavirus (also known as COVID-19).

President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency in North Carolina to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of people infected.

Cooper recommended all events with an expected attendance of 100 or more — worship services, concerts, sporting events or conferences — be canceled or postponed.

Twenty-three people have contracted coronavirus in North Carolina, state health officials say.

There are two reported cases of coronavirus in Forsyth County, and two employees with the city of Winston-Salem have been exposed to the virus, but no city employee has the disease, city officials say.

Late Friday, Forsyth County and the city of Winston-Salem declared states of emergencies regarding coronavirus.

Among the recommendations of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, residents who have high risk of contracting the virus should avoid large groups and gatherings such as concert venues, conventions, church services, sporting events and crowded social events.

The city of Winston-Salem has canceled all non-essential city-sponsored activities and events. The city has about 2,400 employees.

Forsyth County officials also are taking preventive measures to prevent the virus spreading among its nearly 2,300 employees.

All county departments are open for business with some additional precautions, the county said in a statement on Friday.

Starting Monday, most district and superior court cases will be continued for 30 days in North Carolina, state court officials say.

However, the Forsyth County Hall of Justice and courthouses in the state’s 99 other counties will remain open. In addition, the Forsyth County Public Library system, with its 10 branches, will remain open, said Elizabeth Skinner, the system’s interim director.

The county has implemented additional measures to help ensure worksites and areas used by county residents are cleaned frequently, the county said. Items located in publicly accessible high traffic areas are being disinfected and sanitized several times a day.

This includes things like public computers and furniture, doorknobs, handrails and elevator buttons, the county said.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes have been placed in common areas within county-owned buildings, the county said. County employees have been advised to stay home if they’re sick.

The county’s Pandemic Flu Policy is in effect, so employees cannot lose their job for being sick or self-quarantining for an extended period of time, the county said. Employee business travel is restricted unless it’s necessary.

Before the coronavirus appeared on the world’s stage in late December, employees at the Kaleideum Downtown and Kaleideum North kept both museums clean and disinfected, said Leighann Woodruff, a spokeswoman for Kaleideum. The interactive museums of arts, sciences and exploration were formed by the merger of The Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem and SciWorks in July 2016.

“We have not made a decision to postpone or cancel any on-site activities or events,” Woodruff said. “However, we know this situation is rapidly changing, and we will take our cue from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.”

The museums’ employees follow hygienic practices such as frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer around the museums, she said.

Kaleideum Downtown at 300 S. Liberty St. and Kaleideum North at 400 W. Hanes Mill Road have collectively about 200,000 visitors annually, Woodruff said.

Richard Geiger, the president of Visit Winston-Salem, said that local hotels have reported more than 7,000 canceled hotel-room nights in Forsyth County because of coronavirus.

“We have reminded and been assured by our hotel and restaurant community that they upholding and, in most cases, exceeding health guidelines and hygiene standards,” Geiger said in an email.

The Reynolda House Museum of American Art at 2250 Reynolda Road has closed temporarily until further notice, the organization said Friday.

Its employees had used measures that include extra cleaning of handrails, banisters and doorknobs inside the Reynolda House, said Kaci Baez, a spokeswoman for Reynolda House. The staff has increased the sanitation of bathrooms, kitchens and lobbies, Baez said.

The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce has postponed its State of the Economy event, which was scheduled for April 2. All other chamber events will be postponed through April 15.

The Grand 18 Theatre on University Parkway will remain open, according to its corporate website. The theater’s employees have increased cleaning and sanitizing the theater to prevent the spread of germs.

Starting Saturday, AMC Theaters, including AMC Hanes 12 at 1501 Hanes Mall Blvd., will reduce the number of seats that will be sold at any given screening by 50%, Entertainment Weekly reported Friday. In an auditorium with 500 seats, AMC will cap sales at 250, the publication reported.

A/perture theater in downtown Winston-Salem has closed through April 3, the movie theater said Friday.

Officials at Old Salem Museum and Gardens at 900 Old Salem Road temporarily closed its museums to the public, beginning Saturday to protect people from the spread of coronavirus.

The first home game of Winston-Salem Dash, which is scheduled for April 16 at BB&T Ballpark, remains on the schedule.

Little League North Carolina District 2 will suspend all Little League activities until April 6. The organization oversees Little Leagues in Winston-Salem, Walkertown, Kernersville, King, Walnut Cove, Davie County and eastern Surry County, its website says.

“We will reassess the situation the end of March and make further decisions accordingly,” said Vince Scanlon, the league’s district administrator.

N.C. Fusion, which stages athletic events including soccer at the BB&T Sports Park in Bermuda Run, has suspended all of its sports-related activities until April 1 as ordered by N.C. Youth Soccer Association based on U.S. Soccer Federation recommendations, according to its website.

Officials with Bowman Gray Stadium racing still plans to stage its season opening event on April 18, said Loren Pinilis, a stadium spokesman.

“We are moving ahead over the coming weeks with preparing for our 72nd season of racing action,” Pinilis said. “We will continue to monitor the situation until then.”