Forsyth County saw a one-day 35% increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 coronavirus on Wednesday, as Winston-Salem officials announced sweeping cutbacks in city services in a bid to protect city workers.

The Forsyth County Health Department announced Wednesday morning that 15 more people had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday, up from 42.

It was the largest daily increase of new cases yet, and brought the total to at least 57 cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth.

Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity told city council members in an email that “we are entering a new stage in this crisis,” and said state projections show “a rapid increase in cases and deaths,” with a peak in late April.

“Based on the model, and direction from the state our local emergency management staff are looking at options for a temporary morgue,” Garrity wrote.

Garrity said refrigerator trucks or even use of the city’s ice rink at the fairgrounds are under consideration.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” Garrity said. “The first stage is looking at facilities for a field hospital. If you look at the model for North Carolina, we may stay within our bed capacity if we do all the social distancing and other things.”

Winston-Salem officials announced that starting Monday the city would end yard-waste collection, brush and limb collection, mowing and landscaping, routine street maintenance and parking enforcement, among other services, until further notice.

Warnings sounded

Mayor Allen Joines hammered home the warning that city and county leaders have been sounding for days about the need to try to slow the spread of the virus by staying at home.

“The orders allow exceptions for citizens to leave their homes, but I strongly urge all residents to limit their excursions to only those that are absolutely necessary,” Joines said, urging residents to “not underestimate the seriousness of the challenge we are facing.”

On a day when President Trump said that following guidelines could save a million lives nationally, Joines said that he’s encouraged by reports from San Francisco suggesting that stay-at-home orders there may be slowing the spread of the disease.

“We have been told to expect that incidence of the virus in our community might not peak until mid-April at the earliest, and we must do everything we can to slow the rate of transmission so our hospitals are not overwhelmed,” Joines said.

Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift warned Wednesday the death toll and case count will increase in the coming weeks, citing projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Therefore, it is crucial people stay home and maintain social distancing to help stop the spread,” Swift said in a news release. “We know what has to be done and must do it.”

Garrity said that in addition to the first COVID-19 death in Forsyth County, he was able to report the first positive case of a city employee.

In his email, Garrity said more are to come:

“Before this is over, I expect all of us will know someone personally that passed or was very sick with COVID 19,” Garrity wrote. “Considering the fact that your city government is a large employer, it is reasonable to expect that we will have a death of a city employee.”

More cases in Davidson County

In Davidson County, the number of people testing positive for coronavirus climbed to 41 on Wednesday, an increase of 16 from the day before, according to the county health department.

On Wednesday, Rockingham County recorded its first death from coronavirus.

At least 1,600 cases have been identified in the state, according to county health departments and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This is the seventh day in a row the state’s case total has increased by at least 100 patients.

On Monday, a Forsyth Resident died from COVID-19. At least 11 people in North Carolina have died from the virus, including a Guilford resident, a Wilkes resident and a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy. The state health department’s death toll does not include the most recently announced deaths.

In the United States, more than 4,000 people have died from the virus.

Essential services continue

Garrity pointed out Wednesday that essential city services, ones that involve the great majority of the city’s workforce, would continue:

Those services include police and fire protection, residential trash and recycling collection, emergency communications, recreation center feeding sites, landfills, water and sewer service and others.

The city announced Monday it would end bulk-item collection after the last pickups are done this week. Other suspended city services include litter collection, city-initiated environmental and housing code enforcement, routine drainage maintenance and a variety of administrative and support functions.

The end of parking enforcement applies to both on- and off-street parking. Residents will get credit on their yard-cart fees toward next’s year’s service.

City employees still coming to work and doing essential services are getting a 5% pay premium during the pandemic.

Some city workers are working from their homes instead.

Garrity said no city workers have been laid off yet. Starting Monday, some workers who can’t work from home and who do not perform essential services will be eligible for paid emergency leave.

“All of them will be on call,” Garrity said. “Some of them will rotate in and out when we need them.”

Code enforcement that relates to safety will continue, as will building inspections and permitting. Housing rehabilitation projects under way will continue, Garrity said, as will traffic signal operations, CityLink 311, fleet maintenance, the central warehouse, computer and payroll services accounts payable and human resources.

lsanderlin@wsjournal.com 336-727-7339 @LeeOSanderlin

wyoung@wsjournal.com

336-727-7369

@wyoungWSJ

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