Our stores are closed. Our schools are all online.
We can’t dine in anymore. Toilet paper and meat are in demand.
We’re working from home (or not working).
Oh … and there’s this deadly virus that continues to spread.
By Billy Liggett, Gordon Anderson, Jonathan Owens and Charles Petty
As difficult, frustrating, frightening, uncertain, inspiring and life-changing as the past 20 days have been, we’re only getting started as a state and as a nation in getting through this COVID-19 global pandemic. So here’s where we are as we enter Month 2 of our socially isolated new world …
On March 27, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a 30-day “stay-at-home” executive order that began on 5 p.m. on March 30 and will run through all of April. The directive pretty much locks down the state, following the lead of other states that have been hit harder by the virus. People who work in a number of exempted fields (such as health care, law enforcement and food and grocery service) will still be allowed travel to work, and everybody else will be allowed to leave their homes for essential products, as long as they remain socially distant from others (a six-foot barrier).
But what it means in the grand scheme is North Carolinians still have another month (at least) of staying away from dine-in restaurants and movie theaters and another month of homeschooling their children, meeting with co-workers via Zoom and singing songs while washing their hands.
“These are tough directives,” Cooper said at his press conference announcing the executive order. “But I need you to take them seriously. Although we’re physically apart, we must take these steps together in spirit. Our state will be stretched to capacity if we’re unable to contain this disease.”
“Because no one is immune [and] because there is no vaccination, the best scientific tool we have to control the spread is keeping our social distance and staying at home.”
As of March 27, at least 831 people in North Carolina — making up 61 of the state’s 100 counties — tested positive for the coronavirus. Three of those residents, including a Harnett County man in his late 30s, have died from the virus. Lee County had two positive tests through March 27.
North Carolina has fared better than many states. The United States as a whole crossed the 100,000-infected mark in late March and stood at 100,514 on March 27. Of those, the CDC reported 1,546 deaths. New York was home to the most cases, by far, with more than 44,800 positive tests and 519 deaths. New Jersey was nearing 9,000 cases, California more than 4,500, and Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington and Illinois had each surpassed 3,000 confirmed cases.
Globally, more than 600,000 people have contracted COVID-19, and more than 27,000 of those people have died.
COVID-19 STORIES IN OUR APRIL EDITION
- The virus’ effect on our local economy
- The changing face of local education
- A hit to the local restaurant and bar industry
- New concerns for local law enforcement
- Abrupt end to a promising Southern Lee baseball season
- A family on the frontlines
- Column: There’s good to be found in these tough times
- Column: Finding comfort in Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’
For the vast majority of Americans, the coronavirus’ effect on them has been completely on their way of life. It’s not different in Lee County, which reported its first case on March 20 and its second six days later.
Life began to change locally on March 12, when Lee County Schools, the county’s private schools and Central Carolina Community College began sending emails and letters home to parents advising them they were monitoring news on the virus and preparing minor changes in classes — such as increased hand washing — to deal with it. CCCC that day banned all non-essential travel for the short term and banned outside groups from utilizing the campus. Later that day, the North Carolina High School Athletics Association canceled its state basketball tournament, and the Sanford Area Soccer League suspended all practices and games. That night, Lee County Schools added to its list by canceling all field trips, all conferences, all sports practices and games and all visitors from campus.
The snowball only got bigger from there:
- March 14: Gov. Cooper issued an executive order to stop mass gatherings of more than 100 people statewide and directed all K-12 public schools across the state to close for students the following Monday (at the time, for just two weeks). That same day, Harnett County announced its first confirmed case — The Fayetteville Observer later reported the man to be Jeff Hensley of Bunnlevel, who told the paper on March 27, that he spent several days in the intensive care unit of Central Harnett Hospital in Lillington after he had difficulty breathing. Hensley told the paper he had been four days without a fever when he was interviewed, and pleaded with people in the area to “take it seriously.”
- March 16: The Lee County Health Department reported that three individuals who were tested for COVID-19 all returned negative. Lee County at the time had no confirmed cases, and North Carolina was only at 34 confirmed cases. County offices and services began making major changes on this day with the library enforcing a “check-in/check-out” policy, and Parks and Rec suspending programs. Temple Theatre announced the cancellation of its “Steel Magnolias” production after originally limiting audiences to 85 people after Gov. Cooper’s initial executive order. And Chick-fil-A in Sanford became one of the first restaurants in the city to ban inside dining.
- March 17: Gov. Cooper made the decision easier for all restaurants to follow Chick-fil-A’s lead when he ordered that all bars and restaurants in North Carolina to close, except for takeout and delivery services. Most restaurants in Lee County have since taken a hit, but have recouped some of the losses through drive-thru, delivery and takeout services. Soon after Cooper’s directive, Lee County Government that night declared a state of emergency and activated a COVID-19 hotline at (919) 352-3360.
- March 18: CCCC announced an employee had been self quarantined after presenting symptoms. That employee would test negative. Lee County Schools opened its child nutrition hubs at a number of its schools to provide meals to students and families who needed them. The Town of Broadway announced its popular April event Broadway Our Way could be canceled.
- March 19: March 19: Central Carolina Community College announced it was closing its campus “until further notice” and moving most in-person classes to an online format. “In these challenging times our college is striving to best protect the health and well-being of our students, employees and our communities, while still doing everything we can to maintain our services to our students,” said college President Lisa Chapman. In Moore County, an OB/GYN in Southern Pines announced he tested positive for the virus. And just days after Cooper’s restaurant order, La Dolce Vita in downtown Sanford became the first restaurant to announce it was shuttering its doors for an undisclosed amount of time.
- March 20: Lee County announced its first confirmed case of coronavirus. Later that day, the City of Sanford announced it was closing all municipal parks to protect the public and employees and to slow the spread of the virus. The county also announced it was closing county parks and “additional facilities” to the public — including the recently renovated Kiwanis Family Park. That same day, Campbell University announced its move to online classes would last throughout the spring semester, and the school announced it was postponing spring commencement ceremonies.
- March 23: Gov. Cooper announced all public schools in North Carolina would remain closed through May 15.
- March 26: The Lee County Health Department announced a second confirmed positive case. The county also announced it had tested 12 people in all, and four tests were still pending.
While local hospitals aren’t dealing with the sheer numbers of cases and potential cases as larger counties like Wake and Mecklenburg, they have reported supply shortages. First Health of the Carolinas has been accepting donations of sewn masks and has urged people in the region to donate blood. Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford announced on March 24 that it was bracing for shortages of N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, goggles and disposable gowns.
As for the local economy, the timing couldn’t have been worse for Lee County to face a potential recession. As reported in The Rant often in the last year, the county was riding a wave of new industries, hundreds of new high-paying jobs and new housing developments to help projected housing shortage in the area. It’s still too early to speculate how these executive orders will negatively affect local retail, restaurants, construction and industries — and it’s too early to tell how the government’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package will help.
What can be reported, however, is that the past three weeks have changed lives drastically.
Scott and Jennifer Phillips of Sanford are still adjusting to having their family of four at home all day. Scott says he’s thankful that his job as a senior insurance claims adjuster hasn’t been affected too terribly — he’s traveling much less, of course, but his company now has 95 percent of its 35,000 employees nationwide working from home for the time being.
But Jennifer, who also began working from home recently, might not be as fortunate, as work orders at the company she works for have all but stopped. Their two boys, Ty and Seth, have enjoyed “campouts” on the back porch and have adjusted to their new schedules well, but when Tramway Elementary resumes its year-round schedule online in April, Scott says he’s unsure how his 6-year-old will take to web conferencing and working online.
“I’m not sure how they’re supposed to do that,” Scott says. “How are parents who are also expected to work from home able to handle it? I delivered meals for Backpack Pals to two trailer parks in town [recently], and I do not see those kids having internet access nor a computer to work on — even with the ones the county loaned out. It’s tough times for the school system employees to work these details out.”
For Melissa Caddick of Sanford, the biggest adjustment has also been learning to work from home while making sure her four children are doing their assignments and taking care of the “daily normal tasks” at home … all while not being able to socialize outside of the four walls of her home.
“What’s the worst part? Feeling stuck at home,” Caddick said. “I miss my friends, church and co-workers. I fear that my high school senior who has worked hard will not be able to walk at a graduation ceremony.”
Jaime and Zach Osborne were dealt a different challenge in March — rethinking their son’s party for his seventh birthday on March 31.
“We had to readjust our party ideas had to host a virtual party for him, where his friends and family could log on and sing happy birthday to him,” said Jaime. “In lieu of cake, we picked up truffles from The Chocolate Cellar and made our own personal ham and pineapple pizza kits from La Montesina.”
The party — which went off without a hitch — also featured doughnuts from Sandra’s Bakery. But Jaime, who is now working at home full-time as an outdoor education specialist for Lee County Parks and Rec, and Zach, who’s leading the homeschooling efforts on their 7-year-old, also just learned that the daycare facility that’s watched over their younger child has decided to close down beginning April 1.
“Now we have our 3-year-old home on top of everything else,” Jaime said. “Keeping her entertained will just add to the adventure.”
For Lindsay Tipton of Sanford, working from home and keeping her three children going with school work has taken multi-tasking to a whole new level.
“I know they don’t have to be doing schoolwork, and so many people say to give yourself a break,” Tipton says. “But if they aren’t doing that, it’s almost harder for me to get work done.”
But Tipton has found positives in the experience. She says she’s thankful for the recent beautiful weather and time spent outside. And she’s thankful for technology that’s kept her connected with friends and family.
“It certainly doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction, but it’s something,” she says. “And I appreciate new comforts. Coffee. Good smells. A good cry. My family. I appreciate the food I have to eat more than ever. I just miss my people and hugs.”
Caddick says the experience has made her more thankful, too.
“I am thankful for the home I have, the job that gives me the ability to work from home and continue being paid, the food in my belly, the kids who get on my nerves daily, the teachers who have proven time after time they are here for my children and will do whatever we need to help them, and, lastly, for my health because I am staying home.”
Scott and Jennifer Phillips miss their boys’ soccer on Wednesdays and Saturdays, church on Sundays, Boy Scouts activities and everything else that made their lives busy and productive.
“It’s been a nice break, but part of me feels off,” he says. “There is a great deal about not being able to feed the people we used to feed every Sunday afternoon downtown. Our church had been delivering 100-plus meals every Sunday for over a year and a half. For many, that was the only meal they got that day or during the whole weekend, particularly for the kids. Due to the risk to those we were helping and those serving we had to suddenly stop.”
But like Tipton and Caddick, the Phillips have found positives in this social distancing experience.
“The best part of all this is the extra family time we get,” Scott says. “Playing board games and card games in the evenings as a family has been a blast. I read something about the perception of this event and how kids will remember it. I believe it is true that most will have fond memories of this time. More time to just be kids, more family time, camping out on the porch every night, having more campfires and less of the hustle and bustle that generally rules our lives.
“Plus, I have not had to travel for three weeks now. My kids do not like it when I am gone.”
Community Outreach Coordinator at Lee County Partnership for Children & Families and mother Heather Garrity has also found several silver linings.
“Being at home has given me more time with my family, more meaningful conversations with others that otherwise would have been a few texts back and forth, and an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective of thankfulness,” she said. “It has been inspiring to see people coming together for good — coordinating resources for students and families, teachers having parades through their students’ neighborhoods, musicians and performers broadcasting live on social media, multiple churches having online services, volunteers stepping forward to help in any way they can, utility companies helping families, and so much more.
“I think the way my life has changed the most is that instead of letting the fear and craziness of the situation get to me, I am trying to appreciate the extra time that we have to focus on what needs to be done, while also allowing myself to rest and refuel.”