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Posts tagged as “Coronavirus”

‘Wipes are not flushable’: Inside Durham’s toilet paper freak-out

In stores around Durham, aisles usually well-diversified with toilet paper brands endorsed by happy bear families and cherubic mascots are barren. A sign above the depleted shelves at the Target on 15/501 declares, “Due to high demand and to support all guests, we will be limiting the quantities of toilet paper, flushable wipes and facial tissue to 1 each per guest.”  

These are dire times. One unanticipated consequence of the coronavirus crisis is a nationwide shortage of toilet paper, as well as tissues and (now-infamous) flushable wipes.  It’s not just Target. The shelves echo emptiness at Harris Teeter, Costco, Whole Foods and just about any other Durham store that sells it.

The void in the home-goods aisles has made room for Durhamites to step in. Listservs, Facebook groups, and Instagram posts show how the community has come together to help people cope with the toilet paper turmoil. 

On one Durham email thread, a woman offered up her own recent shipment from Who Gives A Crap, a specialty retailer that sells a version said to be 100% recycled.  She emphasized that she was not amassing a supply of the paper (which has become a bit of a taboo, particularly in community-minded Durham), but was simply a long-time subscriber to the service. The woman, ironically enough, did seem to give a crap: Her goal was to donate toilet paper to groups that may have a harder time obtaining it during the COVID-19 crisis such as the elderly or immunocompromised. 

Scott Sellers, a father of two, is also attempting to pass some TP under the stall, so to speak. He and a few of the other younger members of the listserv have banded together to run errands for those more at risk – and make sure they get the toilet paper they need. The effort, he says, is “emphasizing the best about us.” 

Sellers has heard some horror stories of stockpiling. 

“Harris Teeter restocks [toilet paper] at 6:30 a.m.,” he says, “and people are waiting in line until they run out.”

He is still scratching his head to understand the hoarding culture. His theory is that toilet paper is tangible.

“You can’t see this virus but you can see the toilet paper,” he says. Leaving a store with four 12-packs of Charmin or Angel Soft, in the face of mounting unpredictability, feels productive. 

People seem to crave this feeling. Throughout the county, there is a dull quiet. Workplaces are closed, stores are shuttered. People are seeking control – so they stock their pantries, and they fill linen closets, with toilet paper. 

A coping mechanism, “that’s probably what it is,” Sellers says. “Like, this gives me a piece of anchoring during this completely uncertain time.”

Empty shelves at the Target on 15/501.

David Matthews, the branch manager of Not Just Paper, an office and school supply store on Main Street, is also trying to understand the obsession. He agrees that it’s less about the use and more about the preparation. When expecting a child, this concept is called nesting – the urge to create a comfy space for the new baby. When expecting a pandemic, it’s about preparing the nest for an unclear future.

“People are unfamiliar with what all these stay-in-place orders mean and we feel insecure,” he says. “Word got out that you have to have your basic supplies and when you think about it, (toilet paper) is a basic supply people take for granted.”

He thinks there’s a bit of groupthink, too. “It gets your attention when you see the shelves empty.” Everyone is wondering why their friends and neighbors are stocking up, but don’t want to be the ones caught empty-handed. 

People have traveled far, from Rocky Mount and Jackson County, to visit his store. So he is loudly marketing their stash: a sign out front boasts, “We have toilet paper!”

“Supply and demand,” he points out. “We have it; other people don’t.” 

Not Just Paper is one of the many retailers that has taken to establishing a limit per customer, in an effort to flatten the curve on stockpiling. “I want to make sure there’s enough for everyone,” Matthews explains. 

At the end of the day, Matthews isn’t worrying about the psychology behind the hoarding. Like Sellers and the listserv volunteers, he just wants customers to know he can help. And while they’re not just paper – they do have plenty of it. 

And finally, some discouraging news for those who have not been so lucky in their bathroom stashing and have attempted to get creative. Flushable wipes, which are likewise beginning to sell out (much to the chagrin of city officials) are meant to serve as a TP alternative and dissolve in the sewer. Indeed, Cottonelle, the self-ascribed “No. 1 Flushable Wipe Brand among national flushable wipes brands,” claims to begin this dissolving process right after flushing. 

The city of Durham begs to differ. 

“Wipes are not flushable — no matter what the ads want us to believe!” their Instagram, @cityofdurhamnc, posted recently. The post goes on to implore residents to discontinue use of the products, which can clog home plumbing or sewer lines. It sums up the warning by urging followers to “#protectyourpipes,” perhaps in a wink to the respiratory pandemic causing the surge in stocking. 

At top, a sign outside Not Just Paper. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

County’s emergency order expands Durham’s stay-at-home policies

County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs extended stay-at-home orders for nonessential workers Saturday as local officials moved to stem the rapidly growing number of coronavirus cases in Durham, which reached 103 on Friday.

The new county measures broaden a citywide order that Mayor Steve Schewel implemented two days ago and adds new requirements for local businesses and childcare facilities. The county order goes into effect Sunday at 5 p.m. 

With Schewel’s consent and collaboration, Jacobs said the new rules extend stay-at-home and workplace requirements to parts of the county outside the city’s jurisdiction, including the Durham side of Research Triangle Park.

The 13-page order points to a federal list of critical infrastructure sectors to guide local businesses as they decide who should and should not be going to work. It also lays out  new sanitation and social distancing requirements for local businesses, as well as residents. These requirements include mandatory temperature checks for all employees at the start of each workday, maintaining six feet between all individuals, thoroughly washing hands as frequently as possible, and prohibiting the sharing of tools or workplace instruments.

“It really boils down to personal responsibility and just responsibility of all of our employers,” Jacobs said of the new requirements.

The order asks that childcare facilities abide by more stringent guidelines. Specifically, all childcare must be carried out in specific, unchanging groups. That means the same adult must be with the same group of children each day. These groups also are required to remain in separate rooms throughout the day, and they are prohibited from mixing.

Professional services such as legal, accounting, insurance and real estate also have strict new guidelines. All services are required to be carried out by a single individual, and may only take place if they are necessary for a closing sale. The ordinance prohibits in-person showings and open houses, but Jacobs encouraged real estate agents to take advantage of online tools like Facebook Live events for showing houses.

Jacobs emphasized that the county rules are more restrictive than a statewide order announced Friday by Gov. Roy Cooper. In order to most accurately target Durham County’s virus loci, Jacobs emphasized that local ordinances and rules take precedence over those in the state order, which takes effect Monday.

Jacobs acknowledged the inconsistencies in limits on social gatherings in different places, as some prohibit gatherings of any size, while others prohibit gatherings of more than two people. As of right now, both the state and local ordinances prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people. However, Jacobs said this rule does not mean people should be going out of their way to socialize. “You really should try not to have social gatherings of any type,” she insisted.

Should the gathering limit prove too large in the coming weeks, the County Board will work with the mayor and county Health Director to amend the social gathering guidelines. 

Jacobs explained the new rules in a Facebook video from the County Board’s chamber Saturday afternoon. She pushed through a cough throughout the 40-minute announcement, but assured the audience that it was allergies, not COVID-19. She said she tested negative for the virus, and had practiced self-quarantining while waiting for her results.

Jacobs signed off by echoing an optimistic message from Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services: “To our beloved Bull City, we can do this, we are strong, we are in this together.”

At top: County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs announces expanded emergency measures Saturday. Facebook video image by 9th Street Journal

Newly jobless hit bumps filing for unemployment pay

Now that state and local government orders have shuttered restaurants, bars, gyms and many other businesses, the ranks of people laid off in North Carolina keeps swelling. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has made moves to simplify signing up for unemployment benefits. But people trying to get that job done say glitches with a state website can make it tough to get started. 

Alexis Graves waited tables at Durham’s celebrated Italian restaurant Gocciolina before she was let go on March 17. Though Gocciolina remains open for take-out, without floor service, Graves and all other waiters are out of work.

When Graves got word of the layoffs from her manager, she immediately started filing for unemployment, a process that can be done online. She logged into the state website around 3:30 p.m, she said.

“I sat down and started trying,” Graves said. “It was so slow, and then things started timing out.”

Graves finally gave up and restarted her application later in the evening. She was able to finish around 1 a.m., she said.

“It was seriously glitchy,” Graves said. “The website doesn’t function well, even in the best of times. But right now, it’s frightening.”

Almost 220,000 North Carolinians filed for unemployment between March 16 and 26, according to Larry Parker, spokesperson for the Division of Employment Security. That’s 60,000 more than all the unemployment claims filed in North Carolina throughout 2019. 

The Division of Employment Security recently posted 50 new jobs it will fill to handle the influx of claims, Parker said. One listing, for a call center representative at the division, notes that applicants can expect to take around 60-80 calls per day.

But calling to file an unemployment claim can be even slower than filing online, according to some people recently made jobless.

Ashley Zepeda at her former job tending bar at Bartaco in Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Zepeda

Ashley Zepeda was laid off from her job as a bartender at Raleigh’s Bartaco on Monday. When she tried to file for unemployment online, the website kept crashing, she said. So, she tried calling the department. 

“I got an automated message,” Zepeda said. “It’s a lady who says, ‘I’m sorry, there’s too many people calling. Try again later, goodbye.’ Then it hangs up on you.”

Zepeda kept trying the state website, but it continued to crash. “You can’t do it online, and you can’t do it on the phone,” she said.

Complaints about the situation are showing up on social media, including posts on Durham’s Reddit thread. People across North Carolina have reported a glitchy unemployment website and long wait times on the phone. 

The Division of Employment Security acknowledges the issues with their phone lines, writing online “our customer call center is experiencing high call volume” and urging people to use their online system to avoid waiting on hold.

“We had some initial web issues last week but upgraded our server capacity and that has helped tremendously,” wrote Parker in an email. “We are asking that people make sure they walk through the process — not run.”

Last week, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore created a remote legislative committee to address the impacts of coronavirus. That group drafted a bill, named the COVID-19 Response Act, to finalize the changes the governor had already made to unemployment benefits. 

Those changes include removing the one-week waiting period, giving employers tax credits for paying into unemployment funds, and allowing employees with reduced work hours to apply for benefits. The committee meets again next Tuesday. 

After Graves finished her unemployment application online, she waited four days for confirmation that it had been received. A week later, she found her weekly award amount lacking, she said.

As a waitress, Graves’ benefits are based only on her hourly wage, not including tips. That makes her award amount lower than it should be if it included her true income, she said.

“I’m trying to decide whether to dispute it,” Graves said. “But I probably won’t. It’ll just make the whole thing take longer.”

She said she doesn’t want to try using the website again or calling the Division of Employment Security.

“I’d rather just have something, even if it’s barely enough to live on,” she said.

Graves had some words of advice for anyone trying to apply for unemployment benefits in the coming weeks.

“Don’t try to call them. Don’t try to do it through mail. Don’t use your browser’s back button,” she warned. “And make sure everything you put in the first time is accurate, because if you have to edit something, it probably won’t work.”

At top: Unemployment filings in North Carolina spiked in March. Chart by Cameron Beach

Durham County officials juggle coronavirus, cyberattack response

Durham County has been hit with a one-two punch: the COVID-19 pandemic and a significant ransomware cyberattack. In a special virtual meeting on Friday, the Durham Board of Commissioners discussed the county’s progress on tackling both issues. 

County officials are working to slow the spread of the virus, which has infected 102 Durham County residents so far. Public health officials are tracing any individuals who have been in contact with those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.     

Officials are also taking precautions themselves. They relocated from the Broad street office to Durham’s Health and Human Services building, which allows enough office space for them to maintain social distancing. Leslie O’Connor, Emergency Management Division Chief, said COVID-19 screenings are also taking place in the building.

Commissioners pushed for increased caution when it comes to social distancing. Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Friday, and the city of Durham’s order from Mayor Steve Schewel went into effect Thursday. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. The commission approved an emergency measure that allows chair Wendy Jacobs to enforce the orders. 

During the meeting, Commissioner Heidi Carter said she wants a stricter ruling on social gatherings. “We’re not hammering this bloody virus hard enough if there’s a provision in our order to allow 10 people to be together still,” she said. 

While managing the county’s COVID-19 response, county officials are also working to manage the repercussions of the ransomware cyberattack on city and county governments on March 6. It happened just days after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in North Carolina. 

“This has been an all-hands-on-deck exercise, working 24-hour shifts and weekends to restore resources here in the county,” said Greg Marrow, the county’s chief information officer.

The attack left the county with a hefty clean-up job. The county’s email system was back up and running as of Friday. Marrow said the IT team has successfully reinstalled software on all county computers and laptops and scanned over 2 million documents across 300 servers and 800 databases. However, there’s still a significant amount of work to be done: The IT team estimates the number of documents that need to be scanned will reach into the terabytes. 

Marrow warned residents to be extremely cautious when clicking on links or opening websites about COVID-19 to prevent future attacks from happening. 

“Hackers are having a field day around the country taking advantage of the panic going on right now, so we all need to be mindful of that,” he said.

The county will hold a press conference on March 28 at 2:00 p.m. in the county chambers, where commissioners will  discuss Cooper’s executive order to stay at home.

Top photo: Screenshot of the virtual Board of Commissioners meeting on Friday, March 27. 

Governor yields to hospitals’ call for stay-at-home order

Amidst mounting pressure from the health care industry, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a statewide stay-at-home order Friday to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The measure goes live Monday at 5 p.m. 

“We have to act now in the safest, smartest way while we have the chance to save lives. It is truly a matter of life and death,” Cooper said Friday afternoon.

North Carolina is at least the 24th state to have declared such an order as of Friday afternoon. The state order will take precedence over local orders if they conflict and if local orders are less restrictive, Cooper said. 

“This order may lead to even more hardship and heartache,” Cooper said, acknowledging the huge numbers of people who have lost employment from efforts to stop the coronavirus. “We will not forget people who have lost their livelihoods during this crisis.”

The order is similar to others nationwide in that it requires people to stay at home unless they leave for approved reasons. Those include trips for essential supplies, for health care, essential work and outdoor exercise. 

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants offering takeout, drive-through and delivery only can remain open in the statewide order. It bans gatherings of more than 10 people and calls for social distancing. 

The move comes after hospital lobbying group N.C. Health Care Association wrote to Cooper Monday urging such a policy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which may prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed by a large influx of COVID-19 cases.

The virus is spreading in North Carolina, although due to limited testing, its true reach here is unknown.

On Monday, the state reported 297 confirmed cases of the virus but by Friday had confirmed nearly 800, Cooper said. The Centers for Disease Control has deemed North Carolina has reached “widespread transmission,” he added. 

Some cities and counties, including Durham and Mecklenburg County, beat Cooper to the punch by implementing their own stay-at-home orders this week. Durham and Mecklenburg counties have among the highest number of confirmed cases in the state.  

Cooper, whose tone was measured during his press conference, said that he hopes people will voluntarily follow the order and remember “the good part of our lives as North Carolinians will return.”

He is asking law enforcement to encourage people to abide by the order, he said. If people “continually and flagrantly” violate the order, the governor stressed, authorities will prosecute. 

“This is a serious order and we want people to follow it,” Cooper said. 

In addition to a $2 trillion federal stimulus package passed by by Congress on  Friday, Cooper has made moves to soften the economic fallout from efforts to control the virus.

The governor expressed concern about how long it might take for federal relief for small businesses and said he wished more money was distributed to states and municipalities.

On the state level, Cooper made unemployment benefits easier to get in a March 17 executive order, a move which has triggered more than 200,000 unemployment claims statewide, most citing the pandemic, he said.

“This order may lead to even more hardship and heartache,” Cooper acknowledged. “ It might mean you’re isolated or you lost your job. That’s difficult, so thank you for doing the right thing.”
 

Five ways Durham’s ‘stay at home’ order differs from others

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel’s “stay-at-home” order issued Wednesday requires city residents to stay at home unless they have very specific, approved reasons to leave. 

The document is intended to prevent a global pandemic from spreading serious illness and loss of life here.

Italy has been ravaged with nearly 75,000 coronavirus cases and about 7,500 deaths. The United States could follow that path if communities don’t act to protect their residents, the mayor said.

“We are fortunate that the numbers in North Carolina and Durham are still low and we hope to keep it that way,” Schewel said during a press conference Wednesday.

Yet many people, particularly young people, had been “unhealthy and unsafe” by gathering in large numbers rather than practicing social distancing.

After announcing the stay-at-home order during a press conference streamed on several platforms, Durham officials spread word of the changes on social media.

Schewel’s order is similar to others across the country affecting more than 100 million Americans. But different states, cities and counties are customizing them to a degree.

Schewel said he closely crafted Durham’s 14-page order with city attorney Kim Rehberg while looking over orders from Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, and the village of Clemmons, near Winston-Salem, because both apply in North Carolina. 

All three orders ban public and private gatherings of more than 10 people. They require non-essential businesses to close. Grocery stores and pharmacies are among those exempt, along with restaurants serving take-out, drive-through and delivery meals only. Gas stations and other commerce vital to transportation can remain open.  

But Durham’s order differs from the others in this state and elsewhere in the country a bit. Here are five ways.

You probably won’t get arrested for violating the order 

Maryland isn’t messing around with its coronavirus response. 

Gov. Larry Hogan said last week that police were prepared to arrest people for violating restrictions on businesses and gatherings even before he issued guidance similar to “stay at home” orders across the country. 

Schewel skipped a law-and-order tone when he announced Durham’s order. 

Police have the power to enforce the order, he said, but the plans are not to arrest, cite or penalize anyone for violating it. Schewel didn’t rule out further action being taken for egregious offenses, though. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, contending with the country’s worst outbreak, struck a different tone in announcing his order. 

“These provisions will be enforced. These are not helpful hints,” Cuomo said. “These are legal provisions.”

Not a ‘shelter-in-place’ order

Before digging into the details of Durham’s order, Schewel was careful to distinguish it from a “shelter-in-place” requirement like one California implemented last week. 

The term “shelter-in-place” is often associated with shooters and nuclear attacks. This name might engender fear, he explained. 

“This isn’t something we need to be afraid of if we act,” Schewel said. 

No explicit curfew

As part of  its “safer-at-home” order, Hillsborough County in Florida, home to Tampa, will implement a mandatory curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays and for 24 hours on weekends.

Durham’s approach, on the other hand, doesn’t specify hours. It bans residents from being in public or partaking in business in public, except for travel for exempted essential purposes, at all times. 

New Jersey implemented a similar policy, but Gov. Phil Murphy described on Saturday it as a 24-hour curfew. 

“We want you off the roads. That’s basically 24 hours. We don’t want you out there, period,” Murphy said

Durham’s order is hyper-detailed

Durham’s stay-at-home order is 14 pages long, close in length and similar in wording to Mecklenburg’s 13-page document. 

Other jurisdictions have been much more concise. California’s finishes in two pagesThen again, Ohio’s runs a whopping 23 pages

The Durham order brings lots of specificity when describing exemptions, which include golf and tennis, with social distancing required. Golf is deemed “non-critical” in some parts of Florida. Mecklenburg allows it. Clemmons is silent on that sport.

Weddings, funerals allowed 

Washington State, which also has been hard hit, has canceled weddings and funerals. Most jurisdictions, including Durham, do not go that far.  

Durham is allowing weddings and funerals, granted that they follow relevant restrictions in the order.

This indicates those with only 10 or fewer people practicing social distancing will be allowed.

Durham’s order goes into effect Thursday at 6 p.m. and runs through April 30. Mayor Schewel stressed that it could be extended or shortened. 

 

 

Schewel announces stay-at-home order to slow spread of virus

In a bold effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Steve Schewel announced a sweeping stay-at-home policy that will limit when people can leave their homes but allow a host of exemptions for everything from grocery shopping to doctor visits to playing tennis.

He said it was critical to act now before Durham is overwhelmed by the virus.

“This is our window for social distancing to work. This is our window to intervene,” he said. 

He said the stay-at-home order assures that the maximum number of residents will self-isolate while still keeping essential businesses open. Those businesses include grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and stores selling vital household goods. 

Schewel said the policy also allows Durham residents to continue to go outdoors for exercise, but he emphasized everyone must practice social distancing. He said contact sports – he mentioned basketball — were prohibited. But walking, hiking, running, biking, golfing and playing tennis are permitted.

The order will be in effect from Thursday at 6 p.m. until April 30, although Schewel said it could be extended or shortened.

Schewel said the order is legally enforceable, although no one will be arrested unless they “continuously and egregiously offend.”

Durham County has the state’s second-highest number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus – 74 in Tuesday evening’s tally. Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, has, 142.

“There is no need to fear this virus if we act. And the way to act is to stay at home,” Schewel said.

While the number of cases in Durham remains low, Schewel noted that the trend line of coronavirus in the United States is following that of Italy. He said it was urgent to act now to prevent the same magnitude of fatalities that occurred there.

He said he also hopes the order will keep the Duke Hospital from being overwhelmed with cases.

The order includes an exemption for educational institutions, including North Carolina Central University and Duke University, to stay open for essential research. 

Wake County was set to make an announcement Wednesday about a stay-at-home order, the Herald Sun reportedSchewel said he expects the order to be very similar.

A stay-at-home order has not yet been announced statewide, but Schewel is hopeful the governor will adopt one soon. He has been in contact with other North Carolina cities and counties which will adopt similar policies soon. 

“Our cities are all experiencing this same crisis,” he said.

Mecklenburg announced a policy similar to Durham’s Tuesday afternoon that orders residents to stay at home and bans gatherings of more than 10 people. The order limits travel on public roads to those needing medical care, food, or other trips vital to “well-being.” Mayors of nearby towns Cornelius, Matthews, Davidson, Mint Hill, Huntersville, and Pineville also signed the order.

The  stay-at-home approach by the North Carolina cities and counties is similar to policies in 18 states, 31 counties, and 13 cities as of Tuesday, according to a New York Times summary. Soon the majority of Americans will live under similar restrictions, the Times said.

Punishments vary by location. Violators in Hawaii may face up to a year in jail or $5,000 in fines. 

Schewel’s stay-at-home order followed escalating restrictions in the city. On March 13, he ordered a state of emergency restricting gatherings to fewer than 100 people. He later expanded the order to close gyms, health clubs, and theaters. 

Then, on March 17, Governor Roy Cooper banned dining in at restaurants and bars.

On Monday, Durham closed all city facilities, including City Hall, police headquarters, fire stations, playgrounds, and park restrooms. Parks, trails, and greenways remained open.

Coronavirus concerns halt evictions in Durham

Sheriff Clarence Birkhead has stopped serving eviction notices and padlocking rental properties in Durham County to help slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Evictions stopped in Durham days after North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued a series of emergency orders pausing nonessential court proceedings and giving sheriffs across the state the ability to postpone some enforcement actions.

A Monday evening statement from Birkhead confirmed that his office has decided to halt eviction service.

“I am suspending the service of these judgments until further notice,” Birkhead said. “Although Chief Justice Beasley’s order does not specifically address this process, it has been interpreted that under that order a suspension would be allowable.”

Beasley’s issued the first order halting nonessential court proceedings in North Carolina on March 13. In a memo two days later, she clarified that her first order included eviction proceedings.

That effectively shut off the flow of new writs of possession — the court orders to evict tenants that have lost to landlords in court. But while new writs stopped coming more than a week ago, dozens already existed. The sheriff’s office estimates around 180 evictions occur in Durham every week.

As of last Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said it was still legally required to serve those pending eviction writs. But on Thursday, Beasley issued another order that ended up freezing those writs, too. It pushed back the due dates for many filings and “other acts” of the North Carolina courts, including evictions. Under this order, actions due on March 16 or later would now be on time if done by April 17.

Normally, tenants who lose in court have 10 days to file for an appeal. Under Beasley’s order, motions to appeal an eviction ruling are still timely if filed by April 17. That means all eviction cases with original final appeal dates on or after March 16 are postponed.

Last Friday, the office of the Clerk of Durham County Superior Court said it had stopped issuing writs for such cases and recalled all of the writs it had sent throughout that week involving those cases.

Several of the state’s largest counties had determined by Saturday that Beasley’s order also gave them discretion to halt eviction service. Peter Gilbert, a Legal Aid lawyer who focuses on eviction defense, said those included Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Cumberland.

On Thursday evening, the Durham sheriff’s office indicated it was working to interpret Beasley’s order hours after it came out that day. The office continued to consult with legal teams and the judiciary on Friday.

By the time the sheriff decided to stop serving writs, there may have been none left to serve. Gilbert, who works in the Eviction Diversion program run by Legal Aid and Duke Law’s Civil Justice Clinic, said the pending writs were likely all recalled by the clerk.

“It’s essentially moot,” Gilbert said Monday, before the sheriff issued his statement. “It’s not his authority, because the clerk has started recalling any writ from March 3 or after. That should be and almost certainly is all of the pending writs of possession.”

Clerk of Durham County Superior Court Archie Smith could not be reached Monday evening to clarify whether all pending writs had been recalled. But on Thursday, Smith told The 9th Street Journal he intended to follow the spirit of Beasley’s order.

“The lens from which I will interpret things where I have the option to interpret things will be through public safety, with a focus on limiting social contact for the purpose of limiting the spread of contagion,” Smith said.

Birkhead’s Monday statement said that “no one has been evicted into a homeless situation as a result of recent orders.”

But some evictions may have already occurred amid confusion. According to Gilbert, at least one padlocking occurred on Thursday before Beasley’s order, but after sheriffs in other counties had stopped serving evictions.

“Anyone being evicted during this time is at a great risk, not only to themselves, but as a vector carrying disease,” said Gilbert. “The governor is urging us to stay home. It’s impossible to stay home if you don’t have one.”

Durhamites struggling to pay rent will be able to stay in their homes for several weeks, but eviction still looms over them.

“These cases are delayed. They are not dismissed,” Gilbert said, adding that courts are still receiving new eviction filings.

“When this ends, there is going to be a tsunami of evictions,” Gilbert said. “That is going to be aggravated by the fact that so many people in Durham are cost burdened. They are already spending over half their income on rent, and with so many workers losing hours or being unable to work at all, I suspect that whenever this ends, we are going to have a real eviction crisis.”

At top: A sign posted by Durham County sheriffs deputies before a landlord changes the lock. Photo by Niharika Vattikonda

Durham public schools to start student lunch delivery

Starting Monday, yellow school buses will once again stream to all corners of Durham County. This time they won’t be carrying children, they’ll be delivering needed food. 

Durham Public Schools is launching a meal delivery and pick-up program that will provide lunch and a snack to schoolchildren every weekday until at least March 30.

Meals will be made available at “Grab and Go” sites at 17 schools and 50 “mobile sites,” mostly apartment complexes and recreation centers. 

In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, all North Carolina public schools are closed until at least March 30.

The unplanned closures leave gaps in more than lessons and test-taking. Approximately two-thirds of Durham Public School (DPS) students qualify for free and reduced school lunches, compared to the state average of 57% in 2018 .

Durham school leaders want to continue the meal programming until schools are reopened, but whether that happens depends on if they get funding, said Board of Education member Natalie Beyer. If the federal government does not come through, the public schools will have to look for local funding to continue, she said.

Beyer said school board members hope to have answers on funding by Thursday. 

Durham is not alone in mobilizing food delivery while public schools are closed. Many surrounding counties have similar plans, according to a News & Observer report.

Organizers identified low-income neighborhoods and housing complexes and designed the plan to serve “our most in-need and vulnerable students,” Chip Sudderth, the school system’s chief communications officer explained in an email.

The locations of displaced McDougald Terrace families, who left their public housing apartments for hotels across the city in January, were also taken into account when strategizing the site locations, Beyer said.

This past weekend, the Durham Public School Foundation and other nonprofits delivered meals to families that needed them immediately. DPS needed 34 volunteers and they got over 600, according to a tweet from Durham County Public Schools.

The foundation shared photographs of volunteers wiping down steering wheels and car interiors.

In the midst of this coronavirus outbreak, social distancing will be a mandatory ingredient at meal pick ups. Sudderth said the district is advising people visiting the mobile sites to not gather in groups larger than 10.

“Crowds and lines will not help this situation, and DPS staff will wait to serve until students are organized,” he wrote.

Along with the food, students will receive school work packets. The contents aren’t intended to teach new material and do not require access to the internet or technology. 

This meals program is not completely unprecedented. The school district has summer meal programs, Beyer said. The USDA-funded summer meals program ensures students still receive breakfast, lunch, and snacks even when school is not in session. 

The impromptu program won’t fill all the gaps that opened after schools closed. DPS has universal free breakfast which students will not receive this week, said Beyer. Surrounding counties such as Wake and Johnston counties are including breakfast in their programs, however.

At top: A screenshot of a portion of the sites where Durham Public Schools are making food available for students. The entire list is here.

The board: cancellations, uncertainty, and hope on a bulletin board on 9th Street

The building is empty and the sun-bleached paint is peeling, but the wall of Ninth Street’s now-defunct clothing store, Native Threads, is still alive with a kaleidoscope of brightly colored flyers. 

The makeshift bulletin board, an old-school way to learn about events in the area, stands as a snapshot of what life had in store before the COVID-19 shutdown. Concerts, comedy shows, and meditation classes have been canceled as chaos and social distance overtake the Triangle. 

We tracked down the performers and organizers behind some of the flyers. 

Jess

The flyer for The Bright Side Conference is, appropriately enough, quite bubbly. It promotes “a gathering high-fiving women for where they’re at now and helping them get to where they want to go.” But, with high-fiving recently deemed unsafe, the event won’t be held as planned in Raleigh.

Still, the Bright Side Conference “was always about optimism,” said organizer Jess Ekstrom, and she has adapted. With unpredictability being just about the only predictable thing in our lives, Ekstrom and her team are still leaning into their hopeful message: “We need (optimism) now more than ever.” 

The conference will go on, but not exactly as planned. The organizers have shifted gears to make the whole thing virtual — which, Ekstrom said, came with an unforeseen slew of benefits. She invoked a phrase that a friend has been using: “With new problems come new solutions.” 

The conference, originally open only to women, is now open to anyone. The virtual platform also allows self-paced access to talks and workshops that never expire on topics such as yoga, meditation, and art. The team has been able to invite more speakers now that travel is not a consideration, and their message is reaching more people and possibly having “a greater ripple effect.”

Ekstrom said the whole episode is a reminder to be flexible and learn. “Sometimes we think because something was our original plan, it was right,” Ekstrom said. In having to reevaluate her plans, she has found that there are “things in store for us that we don’t even know about.” 

This has created a shift in the conference’s central theme as well; it will now focus on “the future and how we can remain optimistic.” 

Ekstrom graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies in 2013. Since then, she has started two businesses, made a name for herself as a public speaker, and recently published a book titled, appropriately enough, “Chasing the Bright Side.” The book emphasizes using optimism as a tool to create the life you want to live. She got her start in college, when she founded a company called Headbands of Hope that donated a headband to a child with cancer for every headband sold. 

“I had no idea what I was doing but had this belief that I could make the future better,” she said.

She has taken a similar approach for the Bright Side Conference. Since participants won’t be getting swag bags, the conference is donating them to nurses and hospital staffers. 

Yet even Ekstrom sometimes finds it tough to see the bright side. “It’s been one moment I’m like, ‘this is great,’ and then the next moment I get sucked into a dark hole on Twitter,” she admitted. She described it all as “an emotional roller coaster” but maintained a sense of hope. Like so many, Ekstrom is finding solace in the community that will come of this strange and unknown time. 

“It’s affecting everyone,” she noted, “and that’s the good and the bad part. But there’s so much unity in that.”

Rebecca

The flyer for “The Rebecca Show” features two women striking thoughtful poses. Rebecca Fox and Rebecca Jackson-Artis are pondering one of life’s most pressing questions, the title of their performance at the Pure Life Theatre in Raleigh: “What if I’m The Becky?” Their website describes Becky as “a catch-all name for a white woman who doesn’t get it … is that redundant?” 

The show, now postponed, was going to cover “sexism, racism, violence, the brutality of motherhood, exploitation in sports, regrets in old age, and the dynamics of changing friendships.” 

Fox said the two “are proud to have made a decisive, timely choice” in pushing the performance back. The Manbites Dog Theater Fund, which was sponsoring the show, “has given all the recipients an extension,” according to Fox. 

Fox, a bilingual speech language pathologist, teacher, performer and mother, said she is now focused on taking care of her children, who are out of school. She is not yet sure when performing will be back on her mind. 

“I’m anticipating that we will all be inside for a long time,” Fox said, adding, “I’m hopeful that after my family and I have established some semblance of a new routine, I’ll be able to carve out some time and energy for work and a creative life again.”

It’s a time of uncertainty.

“As with so many things,” she said, “it’s TBD.” 

John

“Tibetan Lama Geshe Denma will introduce practices of Nine Breaths of Purification and Tsa Lung,” promises one flyer, advertising a weekend of Tibetan Yogas of Body and Breath. 

It says the Nine Breaths of Purification “is a simple yet powerful practice for clearing our relationships to attachment, aversion and ignorance by regulating our breath and bringing awareness to the movement of the winds in the channels.”  Tsa Lung teaches exercises that cleanse the chakras. The flyer notes that these are “movements easily learned and benefits quickly felt.”

Unfortunately, the weekend of meditative practice has been canceled, leaving the chakras of many Durhamites clogged in the weeks to come. Lama Geshe Denma, who was born in Nepal and trained in India, was coming to Durham from a nearby retreat in Virginia. Now that he will no longer be passing through, it would be a challenge to reschedule. 

But yogi and event sponsor John Gordon Moore has found peace with the decision. “Although I was certainly disappointed that the workshop had to be canceled,” he said, “it also provides an opportunity to practice contentment, and to gracefully accept whatever life offers.” 

Moore, a Durham local since 1999, has been teaching yoga since 1987, and in his many years with the practice he has come to learn that it is “not only about flexibility of body but also of mind.” He mentioned that this time of reassessment and finding grace in the midst of disorder reminds him of an old Sanskrit word, “Santosa.” The word embodies a profound sense of comfortability or contentment. 

Already, the quietness that life has taken on has prompted contemplation in Moore. “Surprised isn’t the right word,” he mused, “I’m impressed by the ways the community is coming together.” 

Photos by Carmela Guaglianone.