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Local partnerships help feed families during pandemic

On April 16, the Durham Public Schools Foundation, Food Insight Group, and the Durham Hotel began providing breakfast and lunch to local students in a new partnership called Durham FEAST. 

The announcement came after Durham Public Schools struggled to maintain a safe food distribution program.

Durham Public Schools had been offering free meals to students since March 23. But after learning that an employee at Bethesda Elementary School had contracted the coronavirus, the school system discontinued the program in early April.

Local families didn’t know where their next meal would come from. So several organizations stepped up. 

The DPS Foundation, a community-led nonprofit that supports the school system, took on the bulk of student food distribution. It ramped up its weekly food delivery program to deliver meals to 1,500 families, and then joined the Durham FEAST initiative.

A Riverside High School senior Elijah King also offered his own solution, partnering with local businesses to start the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative. They set up shop in front of Geer Street Garden and distribute sandwiches. 

And Catholic Charities and Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina continue their food pantries.

They don’t know how long school cafeterias and local restaurants will be closed, but these distribution services anticipate working for the long haul. 

“In any instance when something like the coronavirus is happening in Durham, the community comes together,” said King. “It’s like New York, but on a very small scale.”

A community FEAST

As Durham FEAST launched its partnership on Thursday, thousands of Durham families flocked to DPS schools — while staying six feet apart — to pick up free breakfast and lunch from Durham restaurants. The provisions are meant to serve all children under 18 years old for several days. 

The Restaurant at The Durham, Monuts, Spicy Green, Southern Harvest Catering, and Beyu Caffe were first to offer meals. Kids may have a buckle streusel, a banana muffin, or overnight oats for breakfast. Lunch options included quinoa chicken or vegetarian spinach alfredo pasta. Family-style casseroles and shelf ingredients were also available. 

Depending on the location, pick-ups are on Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays. Some locations open at 11 a.m. and others at 12 p.m. Volunteers drive meals to families that are unable to pick up food.

“The main thing that we need right now is even more volunteers, especially with the new announcement,” said Katie Spencer Wright, communications manager for the DPS Foundation.

Over 900 volunteers pitched in during the DPS Foundation’s previous program, including Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull and Durham City Council members Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero.

“Everyone is happy to be out of the house and enjoying working together on this, which is what we need to do,” said Spencer Wright. “We need to have each other’s backs.” 

Community donations are also essential to support the ongoing program. Funds go toward meals and paying restaurant employees’ wages.

Over 1,100 Durham community members have donated funds to the meal program. Mayor Steve Schewel announced he’d match all donations up to $10,000 to the previous initiative. Durham songwriter and DPS dad Hiss Golden Messenger pledged all proceeds from his new record to the meal effort. (Spencer Wright says it’s “great quarantine music.”)

Federal school meal funding and Durham County also back the initiative.

A student-run initiative

As the coronavirus escalated in Durham, King, a Riverside High School senior, became concerned about small businesses. He wondered how he could support local restaurants while addressing community food shortages.

He presented a couple ideas to friends and businesses: An ad campaign? Business partnerships?

“Everyone shot them down,” he said.

Then, he thought of Grant Ruhlman, the owner of Homebucha Kombucha. Ruhlman had heard King speak at a climate strike and told King to reach out if he ever needed help.

Together, Ruhlman and King decided to work with local businesses to provide free lunches. Homebucha Kombucha, Lil Farm, and Geer Street Garden joined in the effort, which they named Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative.

Every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they set up outside Geer Street Garden and distribute about 100 meals. Community members wait for food, standing in distanced lines and listening to amplified music. 

Lunch selections vary day-by-day, including pimento cheese, turkey, or BLT sandwiches. Sides may be yogurt, bread, fresh fruit, or veggies.

The initiative runs on monetary donations to provide food from the farm and restaurants. 

Within a week of announcing the initiative, their GoFundMe campaign burgeoned, reaching nearly $35,000 in donations. That would cover sandwiches, masks, water bottles, and four employees’ wages for a couple weeks. 

“But as soon as we pay all of the bills this week, that money is going to be gone,” King said. 

He needs to raise more money to keep the initiative running until May 15. If he runs into trouble, he’ll consider decreasing the production cost of meals.

“No matter what, we are going to continue paying living wages. That’s what they made before, and that’s what they’re going to be making,” King said.

Other resources

Local food banks continue offering meals and accepting donations during the pandemic.

The Durham Community Food Pantry reopened April 10 after issuing new guidelines to protect volunteers and clients from the virus. The pantry, run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, operates from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As of April 9, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina had distributed 11,132 boxes of 20 meals each during the coronavirus outbreak. They operate in a 34-county region and work with local nutritionists to determine needs.

At top: Volunteers distribute meals at Glenn Elementary School as part of a new DPS Foundation initiative to address food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Corey Pilson, The 9th Street Journal

With domestic violence uptick during pandemic, Durham shelter adjusts services

Stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic present a dangerous reality for victims of domestic violence: a government mandate to remain at home, in an isolated space, with their abuser. 

Across the country, there has been an uptick in domestic violence cases, and Durham is no different. According to Beth Moracco, a researcher at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, there have been more domestic violence calls in recent weeks and the violence reported is more severe than usual.

Stephanie Satkowiak, a domestic violence specialist in the North Carolina Judicial Branch, echoed this. 

“What I am seeing, which is horribly alarming, is the uptick in the number of domestic violence homicides or attempted homicides,” she said in an email. 

Satkowiak pointed to an example in Johnston County. The last domestic violence-related homicide there was in 2012, but in the past month, there have been two incidents: a homicide and a standoff with the police

Domestic violence victims are exempted from both Durham’s stay-at-home order and the statewide stay-at-home order. The Durham order has been in place for nearly a month, and Mayor Steve Schewel has encouraged people experiencing domestic violence to seek resources and shelter. It’s one of several steps the local government and non-profit groups are taking to protect a highly vulnerable group of people at a time when many in-person services are on hold. 

“Under the stay at home order we are all feeling increasingly isolated, and survivors are often isolated to begin with,” Moracco said. She added that the most important thing to help people is “being able to break that isolation and let survivors know that resources are still available and support is still available.” 

Moracco said she has been impressed with the online resources available to support victims. One benefit of the Durham County court system is the ability to file a domestic violence protective order online, a program that has been in place since 2017. Protective orders require perpetrators to stay away from victims or risk being arrested by law enforcement. 

Satkowiak said that across the state, agencies in 14 counties that allow online filings have reported fewer domestic violence protective orders in recent weeks.

“These stay at home orders … restrict movement for victims of violence and prevent them from being able to seek assistance,” she said. “It’s too complicated at some point for them to reach out for help. So that is alarming.”

The orders are still being processed at the Durham County Courthouse, according to a press release from the Crisis Response Center, Durham County District Attorney’s Office and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office on March 26. 

“We are still here, we are still prosecuting cases and we will be there to help you during this time,” said District Attorney Santana Deberry in a video statement. 

How Durham’s shelter is responding

 The Durham Crisis Response Center is the only domestic violence shelter in the city. Its emergency shelter, which has 17 beds, remains open. 

Executive Director Kent Wallace-Meggs said residents and employees are following social distancing protocols. The center also has a temporary agreement with some hotels in Durham for people to stay, though funds to support the program are limited, Wallace-Meggs said.

The center has moved quickly to offer support online and via phone. Employees and volunteers are running the 24-help hotline remotely from their homes. In 2019, the hotline received 5,970 calls. Wallace-Meggs did not provide the number of calls so far this year or during the pandemic. 

The Durham Crisis Response Center has moved some of its services remote or online during the pandemic. Photo by Corey Pilson

Counseling sessions are being held remotely and the center is not taking walk-ins for other services like legal advocacy, assistance with filing or support groups until further notice. 

Wallace-Meggs said that those experiencing domestic violence are particularly vulnerable because the pandemic presents an opportunity for their perpetrator to manipulate their situation. 

“Abuse is all about control,” he said. “During this outbreak, the abuser can use it as a form of control, keeping hand sanitizer away from the person and sharing information with them and filtering the information that they are receiving.” 

Moracco said she is especially concerned about more vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities or undocumented individuals. 

She said any changes in circumstance during the pandemic have implications for domestic violence survivors. 

Satkowiak shares similar concerns. “Mix in unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, stress, depression, anxiety, and you have the perfect toxic cocktail for violence,” she said. 

One safety tactic to help people who may be under strict surveillance by an abuser is to develop a signal to friends or neighbors that indicates they need help. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines different forms of home safety planning, like a code word with children to instruct them to call for help. Wallace-Meggs said the volunteers on the Durham Crisis Response Center hotline can help callers develop individual home safety plans. 

If an individual at a hospital is identified as a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, the center typically sends an advocate to the hospital to meet with the individual. Wallace-Meggs is working with hospitals to offer this service over the phone or through an online video chat. 

Online services offer more opportunities for outreach, as well. Through online counselling, support groups and other resources, Moracco has seen an increase in accessibility for people who have restricted access to transportation or live far from service providers.

She said  the pandemic highlights the need for long-term planning for domestic violence survivors during future pandemics or natural disasters. 

Despite the many challenges, Moracco said she has been inspired by the resources made available in Durham and quick plans to adapt services. “What’s been really encouraging to see,” she said, “is how quickly and how well communities have responded to the changing situation.”

 If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the Durham Crisis Center’s 24-hour helpline at 919-403-6562 (for Spanish: 919-519-3735). For more North Carolina resources, visit the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence website

The National Domestic Violence 24-hour hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Their website also offers a 24-hour online chat.

Top photo: The Durham Crisis Response Center, which supports those experiencing domestic violence. Photo by Corey Pilson

To reopen, Durham needs more coronavirus testing, ramped-up tracking of possible infections, mayor says

In order to reopen, Durham needs two vital things: more coronavirus testing and the ability to keep tracking down people unaware they were exposed to the virus, Mayor Steve Schewel told the 9th Street Journal. 

Both will allow local officials to reduce the spread of the highly infectious virus by isolating people who have coronavirus and alerting others who may have it, reducing the chance they’ll expose others.

“We will be gradually re-opening things that we think will be safe,” Schewel said.

What kind of tests could get the job done here and how people will access them? That’s not yet clear, according to Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.

“People at local, regional, state and national levels are exploring right now,” she said. “We know we need rapid, easily excessive testing for covid and antibodies, coupled with tracking and tracing.”

Schewel anticipates that Durham’s stay-at-home orders will remain more stringent than statewide orders, with rural areas hosting fewer cases likely opening up sooner than more densely populated areas such as Durham.

“In a way, we will be fortunate to have the experience of others to learn from. They will be opening up ahead of us, and we can observe and learn from what they do,” the mayor said.

Durham’s city and county order has generally grown more strict since March 25. On Friday, the city and county updated a joint stay-at-home order to mandate people wear face masks. That starts today in public or private places where they cannot socially distance, including grocery stores and public transit. 

But a staggered reopening has begun here to a degree, Schewel said. Durham had shuttered farmers’ markets except for delivery and curbside pickup, but markets came up with a plan to open safely, through handwashing protocols and social distancing, he said. 

Schewel’s analysis on what’s needed before Durham can lift its stay-at-home orders echoes Gov. Roy Cooper’s outline for reopening North Carolina and its economy, which statewide orders shuttered on March 30.

Cooper last week said the state will analyze data on hospitalizations, new confirmed cases, protective equipment, deaths and hospital capacity to decide when to loosen a statewide coronavirus emergency order. He called for more testing and contact tracing too

New York state is starting random antibody testing of its residents to estimate how many people were likely exposed and, it’s hoped, now have immunity to coronavirus. Durham county and city officials would look at rates of infection here as well as monitoring coronavirus outbreak numbers in other counties since many people who work in Durham commute from other areas, Schewel said.  

Durham County had 416 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday and five deaths. That number is up from 349 cases as of Tuesday, and the updated figure includes more than 100 cases at local nursing homes, including 86 at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. 

Schewel thinks the Durham County Department of Public Health is doing well in its contact tracing but said he is concerned that it may not have the capacity as more infections are detected. As is the case across the nation, Durham will need more tracing volunteers, Schewel said. 

The local health department has done contract tracing on every single positive case detected in the county so far, Jacobs said. That entails identifying all of those who may have been exposed to someone with coronavirus and urging them to stay-at-home. This has helped reduce large clusters of the virus, she said. 

Jacobs noted that Durham has a low rate of community spread of the virus at just 20% of detected cases. The other 80% were travel-related or due to known contact with someone with the virus, she said. 

The true scale of coronavirus is unknown across the country due to limited testing. But organizations are working to increase testing capacity in North Carolina.

Cooper on Wednesday announced a partnership with Duke University, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina on testing and tracing to better capture the virus’ spread. Duke is expected to help Durham County with contract tracing too, Jacobs said.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services had its first Testing Surge Workgroup meeting Friday, which Cooper said would formulate a plan to increase testing. Michael Datto, Medical Director for Duke University Health System Clinical Laboratories, is included in the group, along with DHHS officials and other medical experts. 

At top: Two women look over information posted outside Durham County Department of Public Health, whose hours and services not related to coronavirus have been reduced during the outbreak. Photo by Corey Pilson

Coronavirus drops new obstacles on precarious path to sobriety

Responses to the coronavirus outbreak are disrupting all sides of substance abuse treatment in Durham.

Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, Durham’s best known addiction treatment program, has stopped accepting new residents for the first time since it opened in 1994. 

Restrictions imposed by government emergency orders forced the non-profit, recently home to 456 people, to shut down two “social enterprises” that help pay for its long-term residential treatment. TROSA’s moving outfit and thrift store are shuttered, businesses that account for $9.5 million, half of its annual revenue, according to its website. 

Other substance abuse treatment outfits have also temporarily reduced or ended operations, limiting their ability to help people free themselves from drug and alcohol dependence. Others have found ways to adapt.

Recovery Community of Durham, located in the Hayti Heritage Center, serves many people who are homeless. Normally, it does intensive outreach, offering clients access to technology, counselors, rides to counseling appointments, and referrals for mental health, substance abuse, housing, and employment.

But RCOD has been forced to end most operations, other than walk-in hours. “I would estimate foot traffic has decreased by 80% which has been devastating for us,” said Robert Thomas, chairperson of RCOD’s board of directors.

What’s more, clients are telling staff that they can’t reach programming that helped them in the past, including getting to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which have all gone online. 

“I just talked to a client this morning and she started back using. She said she couldn’t get to no NA meetings because she didn’t know how to do Zoom,” said Michelle McKinney, a peer-support specialist and outreach coordinator at RCOD. 

McKinney told the client to go to Durham Recovery Response Center, a short term care center for mental health and substance abuse crises, to seek detox treatment. But RCOD clients who already struggled with transportation, have even less mobility now because RCOD can no longer provide rides. 

The Durham Rescue Mission, a Christian shelter, suspended its Victory Program following Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 23 executive order that banned gatherings of more than 50 people, said chief operating officer Rob Tart. The 12-month recovery program usually enrolls 65 to 70 people.

Durham Rescue shut down its thrift store too, which typically generates for approximately 50% of the annual budget, Tart said. 

As of Monday, Durham Rescue shelters housed 332 men and 88 women and children and continued to accept new residents, according to Tart. The women’s division is housed in the mission’s Good Samaritan Inn, where staff have sectioned off singles for residents who show signs of coronavirus infection. 

Durham Rescue Mission has temporarily suspended its addiction treatment program but continues to offer shelter to hundreds of men, women and children. Staff have sectioned off rooms for residents showing signs of coronavirus infection. No residents have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, a mission leader said. Photo by Corey Pilson

Residents have been free to come and go, but upon re-entry, staff take their temperatures, according to Tart. Inside, residents still cook meals, clean dishes, and tidied their surroundings. But now they must also wipe down door knobs and sit only two people at a time at eight-foot round tables.

As of Thursday morning, no residents had tested positive, Tart said.

“We are not able to hold our group meetings or classroom meetings. That has been the biggest hit to the clients,” Tart said. Individual counseling persists in person and over video chat, however. Tart said he fears that some residents may be retreating back to their substances due to the lack of programming the Mission can now offer.

Durham County is normally home to 96 weekly English and Spanish-language AA meetings. Most continue over the video conferencing platform, Zoom, due to COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders, according to a local AA district committee member, who identifies herself as A.E.

A.E, who uses initials to remain anonymous like AA suggests, said she has been sober for 38 years. She started “going to” meetings every day when Durham’s AA meetings went online. Her home meeting in Durham usually attracted around 60 people; over Zoom, it draws around 80.

Greg, who uses a first name to maintain his anonymity, said he has been to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Texas, Connecticut, Vermont, Las Vegas, and Australia while complying with stay-home orders, thanks to Zoom capabilities. Still something is lost.

“There’s still something about being in a room, face to face with another person, an alcoholic,” Greg said.

The pandemic is also bringing disparities that have always existed to the fore. Not all people struggling with substance abuse have access to technology, for instance.

“AA really should be open to anyone, but to participate in an online meeting, especially now that the libraries are closed, requires you to have a smartphone or a computer and the ability to navigate them,” said B.R., a member of a district 32 subcommittee.

Some people are seeking mental health resources from the Recovery Response Center for the first time following job losses due to the pandemic, said Joy Brunson Nsubuga, center director. Staff are particularly concerned about clients they’d just starting working with before coronavirus struck. 

“You have to try and keep people on level ground and if that ground was already shaking, it’s shattered for them now,” said Reta Scarlett, another RCOD peer support specialist and outreach coordinator.

Not only are some clients unreachable by phone or email, some can’t be found at all“I don’t know what is going on with some of these clients, especially the homeless clients. I know they used to be under the bridges, but now they’re not there anymore,” said McKinney. 

Working for one of TROSA’s enterprise is a key part of the non-profit’s therapeutic community-based approach to addiction treatment, where people enroll for two years rather than the more common 30-day, 60-day or 90-day schedules.

Those accepted to TROSA, including some who are referred by criminal court judges, gain more privileges and vocational training over time if they remain clean from drugs and alcohol. TROSA residents who worked for the closed operations  are being transferred to “non-public facing jobs,” according to a TROSA announcement.

People experienced with addiction treatment note how important it is to have face-to-face support when working towards sobriety. It’s not just the loss of human contact during meetings that threatens people’s sobriety, they say, it’s the isolation that has become a fact of life under stay-at-home orders as well.

“Isolation is one of the most difficult obstacles to serenity and sobriety,” B.R. wrote in an email, adding this “could easily be considered to exacerbate the alcoholic’s typical propensity for isolation.”

Given uncertainty over how long this period of isolation will last, members of the addiction-treatment community could continue to encounter unique hurdles.

At top: Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers moving trucks, normally visible on roads across Durham, are parked and locked up. TROSA shut down its moving operations to comply with coronavirus emergency orders. Photo by Corey Pilson

What you need to know about the city council’s 4-hour meeting on coronavirus

During a four-hour virtual Durham City Council meeting on Monday, Mayor Steve Schewel announced that the city is flattening the growth curve of COVID-19: The daily rate of case increases has fallen from 12% to 8%, he said. 

Representatives from different sectors of the city discussed changes they have implemented to continue flattening that curve.

Social distancing, sanitation and support 

Multiple city officials said they have taken significant steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus while still supporting employees and residents. 

According to Durham City Manager Bo Ferguson, the city has adjusted day-to-day activities to ensure unnecessary services are suspended and employee contact remains at a minimum.

Key services still in operation include water and sewer management, litter clean-up in high use public facilities, emergency street and concrete repair and garbage and recycling pickup. Custodial services are still in place in facilities where employees are working; employees are using enhanced cleaning protocols.

Ferguson recognized the 250 city employees who are not permitted to work even though they need to.

“Some of our heroes are the ones who are sitting at home and helping us not to spread this,” he said.

Many of those who do need to work rely on public transportation. 

GoDurham buses and GoDurham ACCESS have waived fares during the pandemic, according to transportation department director Sean Egan. He said the department’s workforce is receiving a 5% pay increase.

The city reduced the frequency of routes and buses stop running at 9:30 p.m. In order to reduce contact between passengers and drivers, passengers may only board using rear doors. Egan said his team has implemented more rigorous sanitation practices, including pressure washing stations and wiping vehicle interiors down with Lysol.

Drivers are not currently required to wear masks during their shifts, but some city officials expressed interest in seeing them do so. 

“I would like to see our bus drivers wearing masks,” Schewel told Egan. Referencing the CDC’s recent recommendation for people to wear cloth masks in public settings, he added, “I think that is great guidance and I just worry about them so much.” 

During the meeting, some speakers recognized the importance of protecting the city’s low-income and homeless people. 

Durham’s Office of Emergency Services, which coordinates disaster response, has created an interagency task force to work with Durham Public Schools, which is currently providing meals to 5,500 children each day.

Colin Davis, the manager for homeless systems for the City of Durham Community Development Department, said that to prevent the virus from spreading in Durham’s homeless shelters, the department is setting up an agreement with local hotels where the medically vulnerable can stay. 

Davis did not shy away from the harsh reality of the homeless community’s vulnerability. “There will be probably people who will remain unsheltered during this process,” he said.

How police are enforcing stay-at-home orders

The Durham Police Department has changed its protocols to protect officers and the public, said police chief Cerelyn Davis. Many calls about minor crimes are handled by phone rather than in person, and inquiries about COVID-19 are redirected to Durham One Call, the city’s information hotline, to avoid 911 interruption.

When speaking to residents in public — especially while monitoring social distancing — officers are supposed to use distinct verbal commands from 15 feet away and use the PA speaker system in police cars.

Davis said the police department has responded to multiple calls about residents failing to practice proper social distancing, but none have resulted in a formal citation. 

Economic impacts of the coronavirus

Small businesses across the city are struggling during the pandemic. 

Andre Pettigrew, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said the department is working with members of Durham’s Small Business Advisory Committee to provide small business owners and employees with as much information as possible about their financial options, including unemployment insurance and Small Business Association (SBA) programs. Pettigrew and his team are disseminating information and advice through webinars and a website portal

He said one of his biggest challenges is helping small business owners and independent contractors who do not have the required information to submit their application to the SBA for relief services.  

Even those who do qualify will have difficulty reaping the benefits because of bottlenecks in the system. On April 3, its first day of operation, the SBA payroll program received applications requesting between $3 and $5 billion.

City officials are currently in talks with other large cities to project the impact COVID-19 will have on the economy. Durham’s Budget and Management Services department director Bertha Johnson said there is a projected 10% loss from sales tax alone — a significant blow to the city given that sales tax generates $71 million a year.

According to Johnson, budget development guidelines will be revised to address complications caused by the pandemic, and the city manager is scheduled to present his budget for the next financial quarter on May 18. 

City council changes 

Amid the coronavirus news, council member Vernetta Alston announced her resignation and plan to join the state’s General Assembly, effective April 9. 

The council debated how to fill Alston’s seat. Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said that instead of filling the seat in the next 30 days, it should be on the ballot this fall.

Middleton argued that the proposed time frame would be unfair to residents who, under different circumstances, would apply for the position, but are unable to due the pandemic. 

“I don’t think we should create a higher bar than already exists to sit on this council for folks who may not have computer access, who would have filled out an application but are worried about unemployment right now, or are worried about bills,” he said.  

However, other members of the council disagreed, citing concerns about leaving the seat open for an extended period of time. The motion to appoint a new member in 30 days passed 5-2. The application and questionnaire will go live online on April 13.    

Top photo: Screenshot from the Durham City Council meeting on April 6.

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.

Where you can and cannot go while stay-at-home order is in effect

Now that most everyone in Durham is two weeks into staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a question emerges: If you need something besides groceries and gas, what’s still open?

There has been some confusion about stay-at-home orders. One Reddit user, under the name fireberri, asked, “Sorry if this is a dumb question. With this new order, does this affect all of Durham county, or just the jurisdiction of the City of Durham?”  

The first order, which was citywide, went into effect March 26. The second was Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide order; it started on March 30. The third was the countywide order, announced last week by Durham County Board of Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs. It went into effect March 29. 

In an effort to quell confusion and prevent the coronavirus from spreading, Schewel and Jacobs announced Friday afternoon that they combined and amended their orders into a stricter one. It goes into effect Saturday at 5 p.m.  

The orders outline rules for what businesses are deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open to the public, what type of travel is permitted and reasons residents can leave their homes. It also states that the Durham Police Department and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office will enforce these rules.

Here is what you need to know about “essential” businesses in Durham County. Before you go, look online or call ahead — though many of these types of places are allowed to remain open, some have changed hours or closed temporarily. 

Food

No restaurants are open for dine-in service, but you can still get takeout or drive-thru. Some are offering delivery, either through their own employees or through services like UberEats, Postmates and Doordash. Coffee shops are closed, but many are offering limited walk-up menus and encouraging customers to order bags of coffee online. 

Grocery stores, food banks and ABC Liquor stores remain open. Farmers markets can only do pickup and delivery. 

Businesses allowed to stay open must comply with social distancing precautions. For instance, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods only allow a certain number of customers in their stores at a time, and enforce social distancing when customers are waiting to check out. The chain grocery stores have reserved hours for seniors and other high-risk shoppers. 

Healthcare

Almost all medical facilities are open, including pharmacies, hospitals, dental and eye care clinics, urgent care facilities and physical therapy practices. However, the county is requiring them to offer as many of their services online as possible.   

Pet food suppliers and veterinary offices are open. Some vet offices are not letting owners in, instead providing curbside drop-off and pickup of animals. 

Transportation

In order to allow residents to get to where they need to be, businesses needed for transportation — gas stations, car dealers, bike shops, and auto repair shops — are still open. Construction can still continue, as well, which is why you might see road work happening.  

Parks and Gyms

Though all gyms, yoga studios, and other workout facilities are closed, you can still get out of the house for exercise. Anyone can walk, bike, hike, or jog through local public parks and trails, including Durham Central Park and Duke Forest. Due to excessive crowds, Eno River State Park, as well as some other state parks, are temporarily closed. Dog parks in Durham are off-limits. All sports with shared equipment are banned, including tennis.

For at-home workouts, check with your local gyms and studios; many are doing online video classes during the pandemic.   

Other stores and services 

All stores that remain are required to have social distancing and sanitation practices. Spas, nail and hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors are all closed. Laundromats, dry cleaners and laundry services are open. You can still buy home supplies at convenience, warehouse, hardware, and supply stores. As of Friday, businesses providing services in a residential setting must require employees to wear masks covering their mouth and nose. 

Entertainment

When it comes to entertainment, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and board games may be your best bet: Malls, movie theaters, bookstores, libraries and amusement parks are closed.

Banks and post offices

You can still send and receive parcels since the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and the like are operating. You can still visit banks and other financial institutions, but health officials recommend avoiding going if you can get access services online.

The countywide order is expected to remain in place until April 30. In the meantime you can support local businesses forced to shut down by purchasing gift cards to use when they reopen, buying merchandise online or donating to relief funds. Here’s one: the North Carolina Hospitality Workforce Relief Fund

Photos from City of Durham

Pregnant woman, fiancé forced out of apartment just before evictions freeze

Three hours before a court order froze evictions across North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Durham couple was forced into homelessness. 

On March 19, the couple — Abriel Harris, who said she is three months pregnant, and her fiancé DeAngelo Reddick — were ordered to leave their place at Foxfire Apartments. The eviction occurred just before North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley extended deadlines for legal filings and gave North Carolina sheriffs the ability to stop serving evictions. 

“There’s a lot of feelings, having to deal with the stress of being high risk of catching the virus and of having to deal with the stress of being put out of my apartment,” Harris told the 9th Street Journal. 

According to the CDC, pregnant people are at an increased risk of COVID-19 complications. Homeless people are also at high risk because they don’t have quick access to healthcare or hygiene and sanitation facilities. 

Harris said the couple lived out of a car for several days before moving in with family. “When you’re living in your car and have to go to the gas station to wash, you can’t get a good scrub,” she said. “I’m worried about germs, about trying to keep myself clean… it’s hard to close your eyes and go to sleep when you don’t know if you’re safe.” 

Sarah D’Amato, a Legal Aid attorney who is handling Reddick and Harris’s case, told the 9th Street Journal she was surprised Foxfire went forward with the eviction.

“The landlord is the one who gives the last thumbs up or down,” D’Amato said. “They had the ultimate power to say, ‘You know what, we’ll work it out, we’ll deal with it later.’” 

Foxfire Apartments, which is run by a company that claims to manage over 30,000 apartments in the Southeast, declined to comment on the eviction. The complex’s website states they are taking precautions regarding the spread of the coronavirus, including closing their office. 

“Our highest priority continues to be the health and well-being of everyone who visits or is a part of our community,” reads a message on Foxfire’s homepage.

Struggling to make rent

The couple missed their January rent payment while they were in and out of work, according to Harris. When their landlord brought them to small claims court for an eviction hearing, they lost. After appealing, a new court date was set for late March. 

D’Amato said the couple paid their rent bond in February. When the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. canceled new work opportunities, they couldn’t pay their next rent bond due March 5, Harris said. Foxfire filed for a writ of eviction a few days later, and the sheriff sent the couple a notice that they would be evicted on March 17. 

Then, Reddick, who D’Amato said is a marine reservist, got a job at Amazon. With new income, the couple thought they’d be able to pay the rent they owed and negotiate with Foxfire to stay. But the company wanted several months worth of rent, including rent they hadn’t paid: a total of $3,000, according to Harris. The couple told Foxfire they could pay by mid-April, Harris said, but couldn’t make it work in only a few days. Foxfire moved forward with the eviction. 

“We tried to come to them to make a payment,” Harris said. “I felt like they weren’t being very considerate of what was going on.” 

The sheriff’s office postponed for two days while trying to determine if they were still legally required to conduct evictions after a March 13 order from Chief Justice Beasley halted nonessential court proceedings, Durham County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer AnnMarie Breen told 9th Street Journal. 

Once the office received clarification that it was still required to evict, they rescheduled for March 19, said Breen. The couple was evicted at 9:30 a.m. By 12:30, Beasley announced an order giving sheriffs across the state power to stop serving evictions. 

D’Amato said she understood why the sheriff’s department felt legally obligated to carry out the eviction since Foxfire decided to go through with it. 

What she didn’t understand was why the sheriff claimed two business days later that no recent evictions resulted in homelessness when her clients had to live in their car. In a statement about pausing evictions, Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said that he takes “the safety and wellbeing of every resident of Durham County very seriously.”

“No one has been evicted into a homeless situation as a result of recent orders,” the statement said.

Harris said the sheriff’s office never reached out to her or Reddick to see if they were evicted into a homeless situation. D’Amato said she wasn’t contacted, either. 

“At no time did Mr. Reddick [whose name was in the lease] indicate that he did not have any place to live,” Breen said, adding that Reddick told the deputy “he said he had just gotten a new job,” and that “he was reported to be pleasant and cooperative.”

An uncertain future

While evictions have temporarily come to a halt in Durham, delayed eviction hearings are being rescheduled and the city is still receiving eviction filings. Attorneys say the backlog may lead to a “tsunami of evictions” when courts reopen. Legal Aid NC is continuing to work with Durhamites facing eviction. 

D’Amato is trying to work with Foxfire and the courts to get her clients into their apartment. Harris said the company told them if they paid the past due rent along with some future rent — now a total of $4,000, she claims — by March 31, they could move back in. 

“That’s not grace,” Harris said of the company’s offer. “That’s highway robbery,” 

For now, the couple is living with Harris’s family. Harris said she’s grateful to have somewhere to stay, but would feel safer and better able to manage her pregnancy if she had her own place. She’s looking for a new spot, but it’s hard to find one.

“We went to different apartment complexes, but most of them are closed,” Harris said. 

That exact problem is one of the reasons D’Amato questions why Foxfire evicted Reddick and Harris. 

“What’s the urgency in clearing out an apartment which will likely sit empty until the time my clients are able to come up with all their past due money?” she said. “I don’t understand that.”

Top photo: A screenshot from Foxfire apartment complex’s website.

Coronavirus outbreak cancels American Dance Festival 2020

The American Dance Festival, one of the world’s most celebrated dance institutions, canceled its 2020 summer season Tuesday due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Founded in 1934 in Vermont, ADF has brought modern dance to the Piedmont of North Carolina since 1977, when it relocated to Duke University. Over that long history, ADF has never canceled a full summer season, not even during World War II, said executive director Jodee Nimerichter. 

“To this degree, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it,” Nimerichter said.

Along with innovative choreographers such as Mark Morris, Rosie Herrera, Liz Lerman, and Shen Wei, ADF brings approximately 300 students to Durham each year from across the United States and the globe.

“Part of the beauty of this season was that multiple companies were going to incorporate local community members and ADF students into the pieces,” Nimerichter said. 

Charles Anderson was one of three choreographers who was scheduled to work with ADF students through its Footprints program. “It’s sobering,” he said of Tuesday’s news.

Anderson, the head of the University of Texas at Austin dance program, attended ADF first as a student in 1992 and has been on faculty for almost four years. He has been trying to secure a position as a choreographer for Footprints for decades, he said. 

Wei, a MacArthur fellow, founded his company at ADF 20 years ago come this summer. He was also scheduled to be a choreographer in Footprints alongside Anderson.

ADF’s financial losses from not staging what would have been its 87th season are unknown, Nimerichter said. But some funders are already trying to help stabilize the organization.

The Harkness Foundation for Dance, for instance, is considering allowing ADF to reroute funds intended for specific programming to be used for general operating support, she said.

The cancelation of ADF’s season, beloved by many in Durham, is just a droplet in a tsunami of local, national, and international cancelations. On March 11, Duke canceled all sponsored events through May 7. That includes the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, another one of Durham’s creative cornerstones.

In an announcement on their website, Full Frame organizers on Tuesday said they are still committed to awarding cash prizes to selected films. The winners will be announced at the end of April.

In the past few weeks, it has become clear that artists are among the many hit hard by the public health threat coronavirus poses and numerous stay-at-home orders. 

“It’s hard to swallow, but it’s the right thing to do,” Nimerichter said of ADF’s news. “The goal is to honor some of these amazing performances in the coming years.” 

At top: Monica Bill Barnes & Company. Photo by David Wilson Barnes

What the stay-at-home order means for the homeless

On March 24, Mayor Steve Schewel ordered Durham residents to stay at home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But many people in the city do not have homes to go to. 

The stay-at-home order exempts homeless people, and they are being encouraged by ministries, advocates and government officials to seek shelter. Organizations that serve the homeless are working to establish protocol for those infected by the coronavirus. As of Friday, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Durham’s shelters.

The city and county departments and external services providers are in ongoing communication to establish “the screening, treatment, and housing protocol for the homeless population,” Colin Davis, manager for homeless systems for the City of Durham Community Development Department, explained in an email. 

Davis said services for the homeless are provided through the Durham Continuum of Care, a group of organizations and government agencies that works together to end homelessness and coordinates housing for the City of Durham and Durham County. The community development department is the lead agency for the group. 

There are two emergency homeless shelters in the city: Urban Ministries of Durham, which provides shelter for single adults and a small number of families, and Families Moving Forward, which focuses on shelter for families, according to Davis. 

There are not enough beds available for everyone who is experiencing homelessness in Durham, and beds are allotted in accordance with shelter’s admission policies, Davis said. The Urban Ministries of Durham has 149 beds total with an additional 30 overflow cots available and Families Moving Forward houses 21 families at a time.  

The Urban Ministries of Durham has restricted access to its campus because of the mayor’s order, which means people who do not live in the shelter can only come for food pick-up. All free meal services are now served in to-go packaging. Donations, such as the organization’s clothing closet, are suspended and volunteer staff is limited. 

Executive director Sheldon Mitchell emphasized that this is a big change for Urban Ministries of Durham, since over 100 people who do not reside on the campus typically come each day for meal services. 

The Urban Ministries of Durham has also created an Amazon wishlist to help stock items. According to their website, they are struggling to find thermometers, bottled water, Clorox bleach, spray disinfectant and hand sanitizer.  

“We have looked at trying to focus on the basic services for the residents we have on campus at this point,” said Mitchell. 

The shelter isn’t at maximum capacity yet, Mitchell said, but staff and residents are practicing social distancing. The city and county staff, as well as the Durham Emergency Communications Center, have been in discussion about where to relocate individuals to better alleviate the crowded space.  

Schewel said in his address that if a homeless person were to contract COVID-19, the city would work to create a facility where affected people could self-quarantine. He didn’t offer details about what that might look like. In San Francisco, homeless people have moved into vacant hotel rooms after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Mitchell has been in communication with city and county staff for at least two weeks to arrange plans for the homeless community during the virus outbreak. However, that process is challenging because of a malware attack on the city and county IT systems earlier in March that left some employees with limited email and phone capacities. 

More services are being organized and Mitchell has been pleased with support, but there’s been a delay in making plans for the homeless community, which Mitchell said is “one of the more vulnerable populations in this whole scenario.” 

“It is definitely important when we do have to make plans to address the community crisis such as this,” he said “that we do remember those who already have less resources or a lesser ability to react and respond.” 

Top photo: The Urban Ministries of Durham, which provides shelter for single adults and some families experiencing homelessness. Photo by Corey Pilson