In light of the increased spread of COVID-19, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines is ordering the city's residents to stay home — except in certain circumstances — beginning Friday at 5 p.m. until April 16.
The leaders of the city's two biggest hospitals are appealing for a similar order to immediately be extended countywide, saying that the county has "hours, not days" to take action.
Julie Freischlag, the chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist Health, and Jeffrey Lindsay, the chief operating officer of Novant Health, wrote a letter to county leaders Wednesday in which they appealed for the countywide order:
"Our predictive models show that we have hours, not days, to help flatten the curve in a way that does not overwhelm critical services," the health leaders said, making a pitch for quick action.
Winston-Salem is becoming one of several North Carolina municipalities and counties to order its residents to stay home or shelter in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"All individuals currently living within the city of Winston-Salem are restricted to stay at their places of residence," the order reads. "All persons may leave their residences only for essential activities, essential government functions, to operate essential business ..."
Essential activities can include medical appointments, grocery shopping and outdoor recreation, among others.
The order also mandates that people practice social distancing, meaning to stay 6 feet away from each other, and bans gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Winston-Salem Police Department said in a news release it will enforce the order through education, dialogue, and seeking voluntary cooperation from all residents and businesses. If voluntary cooperation cannot be achieved, the department is equipped to enforce these restrictions through citations.
There were at least 17 cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County, three of which could be attributed to community spread. There are more than 500 cases in the state, and at least two people have died in North Carolina due to the new coronavirus.
Clemmons, Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County have orders similar to Winston-Salem's that are also going into effect Friday. Buncombe, Durham and Mecklenburg counties have orders going into effect today, and Wake County is also considering an order.
Dave Plyler, the chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, has the authority to issue an order similar to Winston-Salem's that would cover the whole county. Plyler said that while he sees a stay-at-home order as a possibility, he sees no problem with a short delay in taking action.
A countywide order will be on the agenda for discussion in today's briefing session of the county board. The board doesn't pass measures during briefing sessions, but will be setting the agenda for its next business meeting April 2.
"I would rather wait a couple days and be right than do it wrong," Plyler said, adding that he is likely to follow the advice of the county attorney on what the county can do. "We have been doing this — how many months? If we were in imminent danger where it was life or death in the next four days ... we need to intelligently react."
However, the hospital officials are saying that in some of the nation's most populated areas, officials may have put in place stay-at-home orders too late to significantly stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Each hour that passes, more and more residents are coming into contact with others, and the virus continues to spread rapidly," they said. "Forsyth County has a chance to curb the spread of COVID-19 by taking action now."
Commissioner Don Martin called the proposal "a tough issue."
"The question becomes, what action do you take?" Martin said. "If people are going to the grocery store, they are still going out. You want to minimize the risk. I have read the Clemmons order. It is a strong statement of discouraging, not prohibiting."
Joines said hospital officials told him that they're worried about getting overwhelmed.
"We are trying to be very serious about it," Joines said. "There are a lot of retail businesses that should be closing and things like that. We did try to make exception for vital manufacturing and things of that nature, particularly relating to medical."
The order requires all non-essential businesses in the city to cease operation, and to allow employees to work from home if possible. Some of the businesses considered essential include health care, child care, grocery stores, gas stations and many others.
The mayor's office will review the order regularly, and may rescind, extend it or revise it as needed or based on the recommendations by local health officials.
Kaelan Hollon, speaking for Reynolds American, said that the company's operations would continue, as its companies are included among essential businesses and operations.
"We continue to encourage employees in Winston-Salem to work from home if possible, and continue to observe social distancing, good hygiene and sanitation, to stay home if they feel ill, and minimize travel where possible," she said.
COVID-19 case update
There are at least 42 known cases of COVID-19 in the Triad and more than 500 in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and county health officials.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced the first two COVID-19 associated deaths in the state Wednesday. The two, who died Tuesday, included an elderly person in their 70s from Cabarrus County with underlying health issues and a second person in their 60s, who was from Virginia but travelling through the state.
It’s not clear if Cooper will issue a stay-home order for the entire state, despite some healthcare groups asking him to do so. However, at least one area county is asking him not to issue an order.
In a resolution adopted Tuesday, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners asked the governor not to issue orders requiring people to stay home statewide, and instead leave it up to individual cities and counties to determine the best course of action.
The Yadkin County resolution comes a day after Lydall, the county’s third largest employer, announced it was laying off 500 employees as a result of the economic strain caused by COVID-19. In the resolution, the commissioners declare the board’s “deep commitment to protecting the liberty and freedom of Yadkin County citizens and businesses during this public health crisis.”
There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Yadkin.