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Durham toughens local restrictions aimed at slowing coronavirus

Durham’s stay-at-home order is about to get more stringent, limiting public and private gatherings to no more than five people and placing new public health requirements on businesses. 

The amended measure, effective Saturday at 5 p.m., merges Durham city and  county orders. 

“We are amending the order to respond to questions that have arisen since our original orders were issued and to respond to violations of the initial order,” Mayor Steve Schewel stated in a news release.

The new rules call for businesses allowed to remain open to “to do their best to protect their workers and customers,” according to the release. Durham Police and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office will enforce this provision.

“We have also strengthened the enforcement provisions of this order to ensure that all businesses and residents take the order seriously,” Schewel wrote.

Durham Police officers have responded to 10 reports of violations of the original city order and people “immediately complied,” Durham Director of Public Affairs Beverly Thompson told the 9th Street Journal on Friday. No enforcement actions have been taken. 

“The Durham Police Department’s goal is to work collaboratively as possible with the public and businesses toward ending this pandemic,” Thompson said. “Everyone wants this to be over as soon as possible so we can get back to normal.” 

What exactly can businesses do? Thompson suggested store managers mark their floors to show how far apart customers should stand from each other in check-out lines. They can put plexiglass at cash registers between cashiers and customers, she said. 

“While we realize that some supplies such as masks and thermometers may be hard to get, we expect business to make every effort to protect customers and their employees by frequently cleaning surfaces, doors, carts, etc.,” on top of keeping individuals apart, Thompson said.

The order also bans sports that require players to share equipment. That includes tennis, which the original city order allowed. It does not ban golf. It restricts farmers’ markets to pick-up and delivery services only. It requires that people who work inside local homes, including building contractors, wear masks. 

Like stay-at-home orders everywhere during the coronavirus outbreak, these rules are intended to slow the spread of a contagious pathogen that can cause serious disease. Cases of COVID-19 were still ticking up locally this past week, with Durham County documenting 172 cases by Friday, according to Durham County.

The true extent of coronavirus infection here and everywhere else is unknown due to limited testing.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state-wide stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday. Durham’s March 26 stay-home order banned gatherings of more than 10 people and trips on public roads except for approved “essential” tasks and outdoor exercise.

Limiting people’s physical contact with one another is slowing spread of the virus, Schewel said in his announcement. Statewide, one projected curve for coronavirus spread has flattened some, according to estimates from the University of Washington’s respected Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

On Tuesday, the model projected more than 2,500 coronavirus deaths in North Carolina by Aug. 4. Now, that number has nearly been cut in half, to just over 1,500. Projected hospital bed shortages went from about 1,500 to 200 as of Wednesday.

The research institute is expected to release updated projections Saturday. 

At top: Durham officials are using social media posts to remind residents that they must isolate themselves, including this message on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Friday evening to include the latest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases from Durham County.

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