The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through Alamance County even as local authorities ramp up their efforts to contain this deadly infection.
According to the local health department, a total of 30 people in Alamance County have tested positive for COVID-19 – the new strain of coronavirus that’s responsible for the current pandemic. As of Wednesday, 13 of these people had already recovered from the virus while 5 of the 17 who still had the infection were in the hospital.
Wednesday’s case count was significantly higher than the tally from just two days earlier, when the health department had logged a total of 20 cases – eight of which were still active at the time. That same day nevertheless marked a noteworthy change in one area municipality’s approach to the pandemic.
On Monday, the city of Burlington amended an emergency declaration that it issued on March 27 to place some additional restrictions on area businesses that have been in operation. These new provisions, which took effect at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, limit the city’s car washes to exterior cleaning and allow businesses deemed “nonessential” to maintain “basic minimal operations.”
The city’s amended declaration also placed a raft of new regulations on grocery stores and big box retailers that have been permitted to operate in the pandemic. Among other things, these stores are now required to provide hand sanitizer to customers, clean shopping carts and the handles of shopping baskets before each use, and provide sick leave and flex time to staff members who are under the weather.
Stores with more than 7,500 square feet of floor space are further required to implement new entry procedures by marking off a queue “at a single-entry door” and allowing customers to enter one at a time. Signage in both English and Spanish must be posted outside the store to remind customers about the importance of social distancing. Each store must also keep a running count of the customers inside the building to ensure that the total doesn’t exceed a quota based on the building’s square footage.
A number of retailers, such as Walmart and Aldi, had already adopted some of these measures voluntarily ahead of the city’s deadline. But as of 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, these procedures became mandatory for all of Burlington’s retailers – with the task of enforcing the rules assigned to Burlington’s police force and any other law enforcement agency that operates within the city.
The past week has also witnessed some adjustments in Alamance County’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood summed up some of these changes in a presentation to the county’s board of commissioners earlier this week.
“At this time, all Alamance County emergency service departments are operating,” Hagood assured the commissioners on Monday. “But there have been some limitations in public access to these departments.”
The county manager added that the county has closed its tax and elections offices, veterans services, and all of its libraries, although he added that some of the staff members from these officers have been fielding phone calls to a coronavirus hotline that the county has set up. Hagood noted that residents with pandemic-related questions can call this hotline at 336-290-0361 to get answers from a reliable source.
“It’s like calling your neighbor who knows what’s going on in terms of COVID in Alamance County,” the county manager said in his presentation to the commissioners.
Debbie Hatfield, the county’s emergency management coordinator, told The Alamance News that residents who phone the hotline between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. can expect to hear a live human voice on the other end of the line. In the event that a caller’s question demands some measure of medical expertise, the hotline’s operators can transfer the call to a phone bank of registered nurses that the health department has set up. Hatfield nevertheless added that a growing number of calls that come into the hotline are of a different nature entirely.
“Right now,” she told the newspaper on Wednesday, “we’re just getting bombarded with questions like ‘Is this business still open’ or ‘Is the executive order still in effect.’”
As more and more people come down with the symptoms of COVID-19, the county has received a new directive about employees who may have contracted the virus.
In his presentation to the commissioners, Hagood said that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has instructed the county to give time off with pay to staff members who think they’ve been exposed to the infection. The county has also extended time off with reduced pay to non-essential employees who need to stay at home with their children, while the county’s recreation department is offering “child care camps” in coordination with the city of Burlington for the children of emergency workers and other employees whose roles are considered essential.
Among the county officials who’ve continued to attend to their duties are the members of Alamance County’s board of commissioners.
Unlike many other governing bodies, the board of commissioners has maintained its regular meeting schedule in the midst of the pandemic. The board nevertheless presided over a drastically reduced house when it convened its latest gathering on Monday. For starters, only three of the board’s five members were actually present in the meeting chamber, while the other two took part in the proceedings via a conference phone.
Amy Scott Galey, the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, went over some of the other deviations from the board’s usual format after she called that morning’s meeting to order.
“As the governing board, we are meeting today to conduct essential business of this county,” Galey declared. “But we are going to do things a little differently today. We are spread out around the room and we are limited to 10 people being physically present so we are in compliance with the governor’s executive order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.”
Among the regulars who weren’t able to attend Monday’s meeting were the news reporters who cover the board of commissioners. The county nevertheless streamed the meeting live over the Internet in order to accommodate news media and others who wanted to follow the proceedings as they occurred.
It may go without saying that the coronavirus dominated the two-and-a-half hour gathering that ultimately took place that morning. The meeting’s highlights included a Q&A between the commissioners and Stacie Saunders, the county’s health director. But anyone who hoped to hear Saunders proclaim the worst to be over would’ve been disappointed by her response to one question from Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.
During Monday’s meeting, Carter asked the health director if the corona virus “curve has flatted” in North Carolina. Saunders replied that the infection is still on its upward trajectory according to the state’s own assessment. “That peak has changed for North Carolina,” she went on to explain. “It was around April 25; and the last I checked it was April 27.”