On Sunday at 3 p.m., it was 84 degrees and sunny with a brisk breeze. Red bud and dogwood trees burst with color. It was the kind of day you dream about in mid-January, the kind of day where you dig out your shorts — to heck with your flabby legs — to revel in the sunshine, the promise of spring finally realized.
Lots of people decided they needed the outdoors Sunday, as if to drink up the freedom of movement and natural light before heading back indoors for life in front of a laptop and teleconferencing on the couch.
More people will be doing that today as stay-at-home orders issued by Winston-Salem and Forsyth County go into effect for non-essential workers. Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide order will take effect 5 p.m.
The moves are an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in North Carolina, which now has 1,040 cases, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. A 60-year old man died in Mecklenburg County on Sunday, the state’s fifth death.
The number of people with COVID-19 in Forsyth County stayed at 33, according to Sunday’s daily briefing from the Forsyth County Department of Public Health. Of the 33 people with the illness, eight have recovered.
The stay-at-home orders allow for outdoor exercise and recreation, but people are expected to remain six feet apart.
The lure of the outdoors was strong at a few local parks. At Salem Lake, vehicles filled both parking lots and lined both sides of the road leading to the trail head.
People rode bikes, walked and ran. A mother and young son kicked a soccer ball back and forth on the playground, its slides and tunnels empty of children.
There was also an uncomfortably high number of people not practicing safe social distancing, whether it was couples walking side-by-side or a pack of four headed down the seven-mile trail. For the most part, however, people seemed to stay spread out.
Wilton Mitchell, a teacher at Parkland High School, walked back to his car by himself after running two miles.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now I have the time to do it. No excuses,” he said.
Typically, he’d spend his Sundays with family and going to church. Getting in the sun and enjoying some fresh air seemed like a good idea, he said.
“The more this goes on, and the more deaths we get, this becomes more and more real,” said Mitchell, who was practicing social distancing during his Sunday outing. “I’m just going to use it as a chance to rest.”
Forsyth County has decided to keep its parks open so people can get outside. But the number of people packing into parks in Mecklenburg County concerns its public health director, Gibbie Harris.
She said in a news conference Sunday that on Saturday “our parks were packed with people. Social distancing was not even an option,” according to the Charlotte Observer.
The state has closed several of its state parks, including Hanging Rock State Park, because people were not practicing safe social distancing.
How social distancing violations will be enforced is unclear. Assistant Winston-Salem City Manager Damon Dequenne said the stay-at-home order should be seen in the nature of a “social contract” with everyone using their best judgment and keeping their distance properly.
“This is not a police state,” Dequenne said, adding that writing citations won’t be the first step in an officer’s approach to a violation.
To reinforce that point, Winston-Salem police officers will enforce the new rules through “education, dialogue and seeking voluntary cooperation from all residents and businesses.”
Though the number of cases in Forsyth County is 33, Joshua Swift, the public health director, said last week in a statement that residents should assume there are undiagnosed cases here and that people are unknowingly transferring COVID-19 to one another.
In a statement Sunday, Swift urged people to stay at home.
“All community members should be monitoring themselves for symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and isolating themselves from others as soon as these symptoms develop,” he said.