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Posts tagged as “Coronavirus”

A stroll through Southpoint

The smell of Auntie Anne’s, once unavoidable, is canceled out by the scent of a lemony floor cleaner. Masked shoppers exchange gentle, knowing looks. In the stores and at the kiosks, cashiers attempt to look approachable behind clear plastic register shields. Customers in line to check out are instructed where to stand by stickers marking 6-foot distances. This is Southpoint mall as Durham begins to reopen

In the past two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, beer-loving Durhamites have been enjoying their brews on their front porch, rather than with a game of cornhole at Ponysaurus or Stand-up Comedy at Durty Bull. As the city, along with many parts of the country, move through the phases of reopening, the hiss of a beer can be heard further and further from home — on the East Campus lawn or at Old North Durham Park. But these familiar outings look different, transformed by the social distance dance we all must do as we adapt to the World with the Virus. 

A stroll through the Streets at Southpoint offers a concentrated look at the choreography of this emerging reality. The parking lot, usually buzzing with shoppers hoping to capitalize on Memorial Day sales, has the feel one might expect during a midday visit on a Tuesday. In the quiet lot the dance begins: Is it alright to park right next to another car? Is that violating social distance etiquette? And walking in: Is it still polite to hold the door open for the person behind you? 

To amble around Southpoint is to do this awkward dance, a once-ordinary walk transformed into navigating a minefield that might hide an invisible disease. A pair of teens joke about crossing the tape line of the boarded-up massage chairs outside Macy’s, but they respectfully step to their right as another shopper comes into their radius. This is the dance. Couples share nervous glances when strangers get too close, but everyone works together to pretend at normalcy, making nonchalant conversation with their gloved cashiers as we shift into our new roles as mask-wearers and social distancers. 

A smattering of the stores have made the decision to open up and the new summer collections are the least of their changes. Hollister now requires masks to enter; Aerie gives them away; Macy’s has hand sanitizer stations at the entrances. Urban Outfitters has gone so far as to tape arrows on the floor to provide shoppers with a suggested path, taking you from room decor to hair accessories, to promote social distancing. 

The open retailers skew younger: Forever 21 and H&M. Pink, marketed toward young adults, is still closed, but Talbots, popular with middle-aged women, is in business. 

There’s no skew to the shoppers.  People of all ages wander the mall. Almost everyone travels in pairs; masks muffle the conversation, which makes the place quieter than usual. 

“This area is for sitting, not eating,” reads a paper sign taped to the Streets’ patio furniture. “This too, shall pass,” it adds. 

The sign hints at a return to normalcy, but that day is probably a long way in the future. Restaurants have shifted primarily to pick-up options. Food court favorites like Built (Custom Burgers) and Pholicious are open, but there’s not really any place to sit.

The fountains have gone dry as sculptures of children wait out an invisible storm for the mall to return to normal. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

The dark storefronts have paper signs with vague explanations and a little hope. The AMC Theatre says it is closed “today,” apologizing for the “inconvenience.” Bath & Body Works stresses the safety of their employees in the decision. 

What’s next for these stores? Will they open their doors again soon? Or fold like so many seemingly impenetrable companies taken down by the virus (JCPenney has filed for bankruptcy, while Pier 1 is closing all of its 540 stores)? Are they really holding back out of safety concerns? Financial difficulties? How are their workers holding up without the income? It seems these answers will not be available until “further notice.”

The mall, like Durham, is in a state of transition. The tables at the food court are cordoned off and the fountain outside the movie theatre is drained, like a lake after a drought.  But even so, people are puttering about — attempting to make sense of it all. There is an eeriness to this new world and a guilt to participating in it. How essential is this trip? Who am I putting at risk by making it? These questions lead to the bigger one hanging above Durham, palpable in public spaces like this: Are we ready for Phase 2?

In photo above, seating in the food court has been moved to discourage seating. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

Durham Bulls still hoping for games with fans (and a half-full stadium)

The Durham Bulls are in limbo, awaiting a decision by Major League Baseball about starting a shortened season this summer. But the vice president of the Bulls said Tuesday night that he’s hopeful the team can resume games with fans in July, although social distancing will require the stadium be kept at no more than 50% of its capacity.

“If you’ve been following in the news, Major League Baseball is looking at a condensed season,” Mike Birling, the minor league club’s vice president for baseball operations, told fans in a Zoom call. “They’re negotiating right now with the Players’ Association, so really until that gets figured out, we’re kind of stuck.”

Birling said that although major league teams could survive without fans in the stands, minor league teams depend on revenue from fans. 

“We have made it very clear to Major League Baseball that in no way do we want to have a season if there are no fans in the stands. It just doesn’t work,” he said. “At the major league level it works because you have hundreds of millions of dollars in TV revenue. The amount of money we are losing already, and then if you throw in team travel and everything else, no team would be able survive that.”

The Bulls held the town hall meeting Tuesday night for 919 Club Members, fans that buy season tickets or other ticket packages. The meeting gave fans a chance to ask questions about everything from merchandise to what mascot Wool E. Bull is doing to pass the time. 

Birling said the Bulls are preparing for all scenarios. 

If there is a season, Birling said there is a possibility of games resuming in early July and stretching into late September or early October, rather than ending in late August. It’s unclear if there will be minor league playoffs because league officials may decide playing more games is preferable to crowning a champion.

If there are games, fans should also be prepared for a new normal at the ballpark, including social distancing in the stands. 

Durham Bulls Athletic Park can seat up to 10,000 fans, but Birling said that the capacity would be maxed at 50% – and that he would be shocked if they were allowed to have even 5,000 people in the stadium.  

Fans would be spread out throughout the stadium, but families and people that have purchased tickets together would not be required to social-distance. 

“If you had four season tickets, we’d skip a couple seats, and skip the row behind you,” he said

Birling and other team employees in the meeting said the Bulls are doing as much as they can to assure season ticket holders that if they are assigned new seats, they will be as close to their original seats as possible. 

Birling said fans will not be required to wear masks in the ballpark (although the Bulls just began selling masks with the team logo). 

“We will require our staff [to wear masks], but we will not require fans to do it.”

There also will be extra precautions with food and drink sales. The Bulls are looking to expand their use of FanFood, a mobile app that provides a contactless and cashless way to order food in the ballpark.

If the MLB decides to return to play, there are several challenges unique to the minor leagues that will need to be sorted out. 

Compared with other leagues with nearby opponents, the Durham Bulls would need to face teams from Toledo to Buffalo, which brings up the challenge of traveling. 

“The difficult part from our perspective is how spread out our league is. In a lot of these leagues, you’re kind of closer – it’s only a few states. But in Triple-A baseball, obviously, we’re everywhere” Birling said. “We got to go to Toledo, we got to go to Buffalo. So each one of those situations is different, and that’s the challenge we have at Triple-A baseball and that’s something we’re all trying to figure out.”

Birling thanked Durham fans for their support and said team officials are still hopeful they will be allowed to play this summer.

“You can’t get a better opportunity if you’re Major League Baseball, to put aside your differences and figure out how to play for the good of the game, for the good of the country.”

In photo at top, the “HIT BULL, WIN STEAK” bull overlooks the empty stadium. Photo by Bill Adair | The 9th Street Journal 

At Bull City Magic, ‘the soul goal’ and a vision of a brighter future

“We’re not like a regular store,” Lynn Swain says, holding a smoking bundle of sage over the flame of one of her shop’s locally sourced vegan candles. 

Tom Swain, her husband and business partner, nods. “We want everyone to feel better when they walk through that door.” 

The door he is referring to opens into the mystical expanse of MagikCraft: Bull City Magic, a metaphysical shop and spiritual safe space just off of 9th Street. The store is owned and operated by the Swains, and its mission is what they call “the soul goal.” 

In what has come to be known as “this uncertain time,” they provide insight, positivity, and a bit of magic to Durham. 

The store is her headquarters as a clairvoyant, a service more pertinent than ever. With our routines and physical lives so starkly interrupted, today is on hold, making questions of tomorrow more pressing. It’s a perfect time to ponder the future. Lynn, a healer, psychic, and medium who also goes by the name MagikCraft, says she has a powerful relationship with energy and the (supposedly) unknown. She reads people and receives messages from the universe, often using crystals or cards as guiding tools. 

These days she is talking with clients over the phone or other virtual platforms, and it’s not just the mode of communication that has changed. She says that many of the inquiries she has received lately have related more to clients’ personal journey and reflection than ever before. That’s an encouraging trend, she believes. Working parents are spending more time with their children, relationships are being reassessed, and careers and passions are being critically evaluated. The shutdown has “put the brakes on, stop and look and listen.” she says. 

In a politically polarized time, the store is focused on offering a safe space to any and all who need it. “We don’t talk about politics here,” Tom says. “It’s not about what you are politically, it’s about your soul,” Lynn adds.

Eye-catching merchandise lines the walls and fills the glass display cases: crystals from every corner of the world—including one from the highest elevation of Tibet—countless tarot decks, lavender soaps, books on destiny or tarot reading, and cast-iron cauldrons. She says 80% of the mystical merchandise is by customer request, from over 40 local vendors. 

Even during a time of social distance, everyone receives a warm (but safe) welcome. This comes in many forms; sometimes it’s Lynn walking a customer around the store on FaceTime to put in a virtual order, other times it’s Tom, who was not “blessed with gifts” of psychic and medium knowledge like his wife and co-operator, but is known for pulling out a book that offers a look at a customer’s destiny based on their birthday and sharing a page or two with them. 

Bull City Magic hosts a range of 32 workshops – from monthly Full Moon Gatherings to Crystal Grid training. Stay-at-home restrictions have moved many of these events to the store’s new YouTube page, but the storefront remains very much in business; after a call to City Hall describing the value of their apothecary inventory and soaps, Lynn said Durham has said they could stay open. 

“We don’t want to just sell stuff,” says Tom, “we want to educate.” 

The couple has been in this space for almost three years, underneath Cosmic Cantina (the enchanted names of the two businesses bear no relation, but there is certainly a bit of Bull City magic in Cosmic’s bean burritos). Before moving to this location, the Swains worked out of a nearby office space to build clientele. 

“You don’t just open a metaphysical shop in the belt of Christianity without testing the waters, ” says Lynn. She has discovered that “Durham is a very mystic space,” but people like to keep that  “on the D.L.” 

Given the name MagikCraft by the universe, Lynn is a seventh generation medium and psychic; the store’s website boasts that by 2019, she had read over 30,000 people. Her many skills are are listed there:

Tarot , Oracle, Crystals, Ruins, Tea Leaves, Palm Reading, Scrying, Channeling, Mediumship, Akashic Records, Bone Throwing, Roots, Herbs, Shamanism, Reiki Master, Candlewax Reading, Fire Magic, Smoke Reading, Multi-Verse Dimensional Messages, God, Goddesses, Angels, Spirit Guides, Ancestor, Aura, Soul Energy, Dream Interpretation, Past Life Regression, Astral Projection along with visions through prophecy, Telekinesis, Psychokinesis, Aerokinesis, Afterlife Communication, AKD- After Death Communication, Healer, Clergy, Teacher, and Practitioner of the Craft.

She became a medium at age 4 and began reading people at age 13.

Besides being a guru of the metaphysical, she is a savvy businesswoman. At the age of 57, her resume includes a degree in mathematics from the University of Delaware and more than 30 years in corporate finance. 

Even in her years in the corporate world, Lynn worked internationally as a reader and healer. It finally became her full time profession when the newlyweds decided to open the shop in 2017. At the start, Tom, who worked previously as an electrician, manned the store during the week while Lynn continued her corporate work. She would then spend time in the store at night and on weekends, working more than 100 hours some weeks. Soon, though, she came to an important conclusion. 

“I realized everything I was saying to my clients I wasn’t doing,” she says.

This was a part of her process of “walking through the portal of fear,” advice she gives clients struggling to commit to their passions or confront the things holding them back spiritually. 

She is now fulfilled — though never finished. “I was blessed by being an insomniac,” she laughs. During the coronavirus slowdown, she and Tom are working on an herb wall, making more services available online, and they are collaborating with a Duke alum on a podcast. 

They opened a second location to host magical meet-ups: a Kava, espresso, crystal, and sage cafe between Durham and Hillsborough called Magic on 70. The cafe boasts coffee flavors with mystical namesakes, such as “Thoth: God of the Written Word.” Just as one might expect, this carries notes of “Vanilla, Dark Chocolate and Cranberries.” 

But alas, the website informs customers that for “the health and safety of our magical tribe,” the new shop is closed temporarily, although spiritual sessions are still available through virtual appointment with Lynn. 

Like all of us, they are learning to adapt. 

Lynn wears a purple mask around the store, and it nicely accents the lavender walls and the 700 pounds of amethyst crystal near the tarot cards. The store sells masks like hers in a variety of colors.  

“Mother Earth has put us in timeout and we need to self reflect,” Lynn says. She doesn’t expect things to ever return to “normal,” but feels this forced re-evaluation has some positive and powerful elements. She is hopeful for the future, a reassuring thing to hear from a psychic. 

People are taking this time to explore their  spiritual realm, whatever that realm maybe, which she says is “a human reset on a core level.” 

She smiles. “Positive energy is contagious.” 

Above, Tom and Lynn outside of Bull City Magic. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

Mothers & Sons is closed, but owner stays linked to local food scene

On Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all bars and restaurant dining rooms to shut their doors. While this order was definitive, its consequences were far from simple. Josh DeCarolis, chef and owner of Mothers & Sons Trattoria in downtown Durham, had decisions to make and options to weigh.

DeCarolis faced the only two choices restaurants had then: Remain open with drastic limitations, or shut down until further notice. Neither was desirable and both would have far reaching consequences for owners, employees, and the local economy. 

Restaurants were permitted to offer takeout and delivery orders, but DeCarolis concluded that wasn’t viable for Mothers & Sons. It would be impossible to do enough business with takeout orders alone to sustain the restaurant and its staff, he said.

Even if running on takeout and delivery orders made economic sense, the risk would likely not be worth the reward. “We thought that the decision to try and completely pivot our business model was just going to make things difficult, and put people in danger unnecessarily. Our biggest concern as business owners and citizens is to be safe,” he said.

In late 2015, DeCarolis spent four months in Italy learning pasta making techniques. He opened Mothers & Sons in 2016. The restaurant became a staple for customers who crowded inside to order homemade pasta and other Italian dishes. 

Before it closed, Mothers & Sons had a staff of around 40 people that DeCarolis described as a huge, close family. He was forced to lay off everyone. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” DeCarolis said, “but there’s just not much we can do about it. Certainly, once the door is closed, there’s no way we can pay anybody.”

DeCarolis has worked in restaurants his whole adult life. Before opening Mothers & Sons, he was the head chef at Mateo Bar de Tapas next door. With years of experience dealing with food safety and food borne illnesses, he understands what protocols to follow if a chef or a staff member becomes sick. 

But the outbreak of COVID-19 was an unprecedented challenge for DeCarolis. “This is way above my pay grade,” he said, “I’m listening to what the experts say.”

Closing Mothers & Sons affected more than the chefs and servers who found themselves filing for unemployment. When a restaurant shuts down, a chain reaction reaches farms and suppliers large and small. 

Mothers & Sons relied on some larger distributors for kitchen staples, but it also bought fresh ingredients from many local farms. “It’s really a shame,” DeCarolis said, “These small farms rely on our business and we rely on them, and we’ve been forced to put everything on hold.”

The dining room shut down has inspired new offerings in Durham’s shrunken food scene. One is an Alimentari pop up shop in Lucky’s Delicatessen, promoted here on Instagram.

In addition to Mothers & Sons, DeCarolis is an owner at the Alimentari at Left Bank butchery in Raleigh. The shop is a partnership with the Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, a village west of town with a vibrant food scene. The Raleigh shop is open part time and does business largely through pre-orders and curb side pick up.

Although Alimentari is a smaller venture than DeCarolis’ primary restaurant, these days he’s been putting more energy into keeping it open and running. To try and support his smaller suppliers, DeCarolis has been purchasing ingredients that he’d normally buy for Mothers & Sons to use at Alimentari instead. 

Like formerly full-service restaurants braving the storm with takeout and delivery services, Alimentari has changed. The butcher shop is open only four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday. Only one customer is admitted at a time. 

Alimentari’s staff was not spared from layoffs either. Initially staff was trimmed to just one essential employee. Since then, they were able to hire back four more employees, DeCarolis said.

Some unexpected good has come out of this difficult situation, DeCarolis said. Some staff previously employed at Mothers & Sons are now making school lunches for Durham public schools as part of FEAST, the charity program organized to feed children in need throughout Durham County. 

Mothers & Sons supplies food and kitchen space to prepare the lunches. Former Mothers & Sons employees receive some compensation for their work, but DeCarolis has not been able to rehire them.

The COVID-19 era has also brought an unexpected expansion for Alimentari. A pop up shop called Alimentari at Mothers & Sons opened May 7 in the place of another next-door neighbor: Lucky’s Delicatessen on West Chapel Hill Street. The pop up is open Thursdays through Saturdays and sells fresh produce and Italian goods.

“We’ve only been open a week, but it’s been pretty encouraging,” DeCarolis said, “A lot of people from the community have come out.”  

DeCarolis says he finds a silver lining in being able to be there for his Alimentari customers and continuing to build trust and goodwill. “People are really thankful and grateful to be able to get quality meat and fresh pasta, without having to go out to a crowded, big box grocery store,” he said.

Trust and goodwill may be a saving grace after Gov. Roy Cooper allows dining rooms, with new limitations, to reopen on or after May 22. Almost all restaurants will be in a difficult position after having to shut down or downscale for so long. Support from customers now and in coming months is vital, said DeCarolis, who intends to reopen Mothers & Sons. 

“We’re keeping a close eye on what the state government is saying, and we’re hoping to open back up safely as soon as possible,” he said, “I can’t predict when that will be.”

DeCarolis praised Durham for being a strong community, particularly among restaurant owners,workers, and customers. 

“We’re all trying to navigate this together,” DeCarolis said, “We’re working as a community, but the long and short of it is that everybody, big and small, is going to need some help.”

At top: Not long ago Mothers & Sons was one of Durham’s most vibrant downtown restaurants. Photo by Corey Pilson 

 

On Ninth Street, Happy + Hale offers to-go fare and ‘kindness’

On a Sunday in March, Duke University student Olivia Stohrer arrived at Happy + Hale ready to work another dinner rush.

After tucking her bun under a signature green hat, she saw what had become familiar: customers crowding the order line and filling cafeteria-style tables.

Within two weeks, those tables would stand empty. Bottles of hand sanitizer and buckets of disinfectant would appear. And Stohrer’s job would be gone.

After Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all restaurants to suspend dine-in operations on March 17, Durham’s lively restaurant scene was thrown into chaos. Many of the city’s 400 eateries had to recreate themselves or close.

Happy + Hale turned to curbside delivery and pickup orders, but the revenue doesn’t match that of sit-down service. The immediate impact for the cafe was a 90% decrease in business across its locations as of March 22, according to CEO and founder Tyler Helikson.

 “We’ve never seen anything like this,” Helikson said.“A lot of restaurant jobs will be lost because of this, unfortunately permanently.”

While Durham restaurants are suffering in their own ways, many share the loss of key customers: Duke University students and staff. Just a walk away from East Campus and many off-campus apartments, Happy + Hale’s Ninth Street location is a hot spot among the Duke community.

On any given day, 50% to 60% of customers were Duke students before the coronavirus outbreak, Helikson said. Happy + Hale’s business fluctuated with Duke’s social calendar. “If there’s a Duke game, then our business goes down during the hours of the game,” Stohrer said.

As restaurants scramble to break even in a world of social distancing, payroll is often the first cost to cut. While Happy + Hale Durham transitioned from 13-hour weekdays to limited service hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., more than half of the employees lost their jobs, Helikson said. And a smaller staff’s hours were reduced by more than half.

Cutting jobs was painful for Helikson because it broke apart a tight-knit co-worker group established over years, he said. In March he wrote a heartfelt letter to the “Happy + Hale Family” detailing the tough changes ahead.

“My heart is breaking thinking about all of you who come in every day and give everything you have to make our communities happier and healthier,” Helikson wrote. “We have an extraordinary team of leaders in this company who stop at nothing to keep us moving forward. There’s no other way to say it — this time is different.”

To ease some of the hardship, Helikson promised to reinstate employees’ jobs if the business reopens as normal. He also offered assistance with filing for unemployment and help with emergency food, financial or shelter needs, he said.

Happy + Hale has delivered meals to hospitals and medical practices during the coronavirus outbreak, generating praise when it posts photos like this on Instagram.

Patty Davis, a Happy + Hale shift manager, is one of seven employees who kept his job. As a full-time employee, Davis worked over 40 hours per week before the epidemic, but shifted to 20 hours a week, at most, after it started.

Right away, the difference in Davis’s paycheck was palpable. Like many of his co-workers, he planned to file for partial unemployment to recover lost income. Yet, the high volume of filings caused the state unemployment website to crash, making it difficult for Davis and many others to submit an application.

Amid the rapid changes, Davis took on various impromptu roles. Some days he’s a delivery driver, other days he’s on dish duty, and still other days he helps in the kitchen. The most difficult adjustment has been the loss of his work community. “I really see them as my family, everyone was super tight,” he said. “I guess we still are, but you know, you don’t see these people anymore.”

Stohrer, who worked the counter at Happy + Hale, misses a steady paycheck too. But like Davis, she misses the people she worked with the most. She misses the staff meetings when Helikson would treat everyone to burgers and drinks at a local bar. She misses the hours spent ranting to her co-workers about school problems that would somehow alleviate her stress by the end of the night.

“You know how people say at college, ‘Go join a club, find your people,’” Stohrer said. “Happy + Hale was one of those things for me where I had these really cool people that I worked with, and it felt like a community.”

The National Restaurant Association has warned that $225 billion could be lost within the restaurant industry countrywide between March and June. Five to seven million jobs could be eliminated.

Recently, Cooper launched a three-phase plan to reopen North Carolina businesses. Starting May 8, phase one reopened many retail shops. However, limited dine-in services won’t be permitted until phase two, to begin May 22 at the earliest.

One sign that Happy + Hale is hanging on came on May 11, when its Durham store expanded hours to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Even as Durham restaurants are strained by the crisis, many are doing what they can to help others. Happy + Hale promoted the Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, a project raising money for restaurant staff who have lost wages due to the coronavirus.

Happy + Hale also added a Kindness Bowl option to the menu at its Durham restaurant and North Hills Raleigh restaurant, enabling customers to purchase a $5 rice bowl donated to frontline hospital staff. Customers responded quickly.

“Because of your generosity we’ve been able to deliver over 800 Kindness Bowls to various hospitals in our communities and still have several hundreds to go,” read a Happy + Hale Instagram post on April 3.

Durham lightens stay-at-home order but sticks with stricter response

A new amendment loosens Durham’s stay-at-home order, but keeps local coronavirus-related limits stricter than rules imposed by the state. 

The update, in effect at 5 p.m. today, is the fifth version of the city and county’s joint order since the coronavirus outbreak struck.

The latest changes attempt to clarify how rules apply in Durham, Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Durham County Commision, told 9th Street. “We’re trying to simplify things and make this less confusing for people,” Jacobs said. 

One simplification made to Durham’s stay-at-home order is the removal of its expiration date. The order’s previous four versions included deadlines compelling the county and city government to reinstate an order every few weeks.

With the due date gone, an emergency order will remain in place until it is rescinded or modified.  

What’s looser?

In many ways, this update eases the Durham stay-at-home order’s strictest regulations. 

In line with Gov. Roy Cooper’s May 8 executive order, Durham leaders have raised the number of people who may gather to 10. The previous versions of the order limited gatherings to five. 

Durham’s new update also follows Cooper’s lead by allowing for larger religious gatherings or protests to take place outside so long as those participating socially distance. 

The amendment ends the local classification of businesses as “essential” or “non-essential.” While some previously non-essential businesses may be able to re-open, many are still closed by the state’s order, which still shutters bars, concerts and other live performances, and more.

Friday’s update also allows potential home buyers to view occupied houses in person and permits businesses to provide employees with boxed lunches.

What’s stricter than the state limits? 

Durhamites incapable of social distancing, such as those shopping or working in a store, are still required to wear protective face masks. And business owners must continue to conduct basic health screenings at the beginning of every employee’s shift. 

Funerals in Durham will be limited to 25 people, while the state  order allows up to 50 people to attend funerals. 

The amendment also creates new regulations for child care. Child care facilities in Durham are now required to keep supervised children in consistent groups that are isolated from other children.

The state’s order preempts Durham’s in regulating retail stores. Cooper’s May 8 order allows retail stores to open with restrictions, requiring them to ensure space for social distancing and setting maximum occupancy at 50 percent. The city and county cannot raise or lower that limit. 

Why and What’s Next? 

“What this indicates is that what we’re doing works,” Jacobs said, pointing to low community spread rates in Durham, where most lethal cases of COVID-19 have been detected in sites where people are confined in close quarters, including  living sites such as the Butner Federal Correctional Complex and longterm living facilities. Such facilities accounted for 33 of Durham County’s 37 coronavirus-related deaths as of Friday morning. 

Going forward, the county and city will follow the state’s lead on reopening, Jacobs said. Durham will look to North Carolina’s guidance on best practices for testing, tracing and PPE.

Durham will also seek direction from the city and county’s joint “Recovery and Renewal” task force, which includes  local health professionals, religious leaders, business owners and other community members.

“We’re looking to the work of the task force to guide our next steps,” Jacobs said. 

The task force had its first meeting Friday morning, remotely of course. As he and Jacobs opened up the conversation, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, who sported the city’s flag as his Zoom meeting background, announced that Durham’s rate of doubling for COVID-19 cases is now greater than 50 days.  

“That’s good. We’re doing well. But we have to continue to do well,” Schewel said. 

There’s one downside to success, the mayor said. Many Durhamites don’t have immunity, he pointed out, so an outbreak could still spread quickly in Durham. 

Durhamites can go to more places and see more people when they must. But they’d be wise to voluntarily stick with the practice that has helped this community, Jacobs said.

“We still need people to stay at home whenever they can,” she said. 

At top: Duke Health continues to offer drive-up coronavirus virus testing near Duke University Hospital. Photo by Corey Pilson

The mayor’s inbox: gripes, praise and lots of angst

A lawyer grouses about people who aren’t wearing masks at Harris Teeter. A music teacher pleads for help from a small business relief program. A woman who has read — and reread — Ron Chernow’s thousand-page biography of Ulysses Grant demands that her local library be reopened.  

These emails, part of a sampling of 21 that Mayor Steve Schewel provided The 9th Street Journal from his inbox, reveal the unsettled mood of the city. They show Durham residents grappling with a pandemic that has shuttered their stores, cloistered them in their homes and left them afraid that they’ll contract the virus the next time they shop for milk or toilet paper. 

Residents worry that the virus spells doom for city businesses. There’s angst about mask enforcement, frustration over stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Some people simply long for life as it was a few months ago. Others offer the mayor a few words of thanks. 

“I cannot contribute to the economy from the grave” 

One recent Tuesday afternoon, Linda Goswick, 73, went to the Durham Costco for the first time in months. When she noticed a woman without a mask behind her in the checkout line, Goswick spun around and told the woman she was breaking the law.  

Later that day, she wrote an email to the mayor pleading that the city more strictly enforce its mask policy. “I am a lifelong Durham resident,” she wrote. “I want life to get back to ‘normal.’”  

Hank Hankla said his wife had a similar mask experience at a Harris Teeter, where she encountered several young men who weren’t wearing masks. Hankla and his wife, who are both immune-compromised, have since decided to buy their groceries somewhere else.  

Hankla, a lawyer, said the decision “is not only a protest, it is self-preservation.” 

Some of Schewel’s email correspondents also used dark humor to make their points that the pain and inconvenience of the shutdown was necessary for public health.    

“I’m begging you to extend (the stay-at-home order) further,” wrote John Davis, a father of a young child. “While the economy *will* recover, we haven’t – to my knowledge – figured out how to bring people back from the dead.”  

Jules Odendahl-James, a spouse and parent of “individuals at high medical risk,” put it even more bluntly.

“I cannot contribute to the economy from the grave,” she wrote.

“Imagine a ghost town” 

Many people who wrote to Schewel are worried that the shutdown will destroy the city’s small businesses.

Russell Lacy wrote that he is worried about whether his music tutoring company can survive. 

“If businesses like mine can’t get the help they need Durham’s richness will not be the same post covid-19,” he wrote, and urged the mayor to approve a small business grant.

For Crystal Williams-Brown, downtown Durham had once been a lively place where she could speak with strangers and enjoy the noise and rush of a weekday afternoon. But the pandemic has left silent streets punctuated only by the wailing of sirens.  

“Imagine a ghost town with store fronts serving as a reminder of what once was a vibrant, bustling, comforting place,” she wrote, while urging the mayor to approve funds for small businesses.  

After reading Chernow’s 1,104-page Grant biography, Morgan Feldman was ready to browse the stacks at Durham’s public library for something new. Feldman’s May 1 email indicated she’d grown frustrated not just with the shutdown of the library but with, well, everything.

“The current closures are the equivalent of a 5 mph speed limit — so it’s safe — and wearing 3 inches of bubble wrap–so it’s safe,” she wrote. “It’s all non-sense and we deserve immediate restoration of services–and the economy in general.”  

Scott Gray II described the impact of the restrictions on his personal life: his friends unemployed, his family members stranded at home, his church unable to congregate together.  

“We can’t be Bull City strong if we keep hiding.”  

Moments of peace 

“Thank you,” said the subject line in an email to Schewel from George Stanziale Jr., the president and chief business development officer at Stewart, a construction company. The message itself was brief. “I just wanted to send you a note of thanks for all you’ve done in protecting the health and safety of our city during the Covit-19 [sic] pandemic.”  

In another email, Schewel was invited to address Durham’s children.

Margaret Anderson, who directs children’s services at the Durham County Library, sent an email to the mayor: would he read a picture book over video for the kids? It would be part of a weekly series of summer videos for the children.  

The reply arrived in her inbox the next evening. Yes, of course. The video would be made, the picture book read. Life would go on. 

Jail worker died of COVID-19, but Sheriff’s Office won’t discuss

Durham County detention officer Alexander Pettiway Jr., 55, died last week and his death certificate is very clear about the cause of death: “COVID-19 / acute hypoxic respiratory failure.” 

But several days after his death, the Durham County Sheriff’s office won’t acknowledge why he died or give any details on where he worked or if he could have exposed inmates or other staff at the county jail. Spokesman David Bowser said the office can’t discuss the cause of death or details about Pettiway because it is a “personnel” issue and his privacy is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). 

Bowser could only offer assurances that no inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus. He did not say if there had been any changes in procedures following Pettiway’s death. The sheriff’s office and the death certificate conflict on the day of his death: the office says Saturday, and the certificate says Friday. 

Last week, the Sheriff’s Office had announced that six Durham County Detention Center staff tested positive for COVID-19, but also declined to say where they worked or how much the workers interacted with others. 

The office’s lack of details doesn’t sit well with Durham defense attorney Daniel Meier. 

“It’s a huge frustration there is not more transparency,” Meier told The 9th Street Journal. “I get the reluctance to name specific names, but it is important to know as much as we can.” 

Along with others, Meier has to go into the jail frequently to visit clients via video kiosks, so he said it would be helpful to know if he had come into contact with any staff that had tested positive. He said he also is frustrated that the sheriff’s office didn’t directly tell local attorneys that staff had tested positive for the highly infectious virus. 

Meier said he and other lawyers are criticized for filings asking for relief for clients due to the dangers of COVID-19 in jail, but there isn’t enough information to know that the jail is safe. 

“They say it’s not [dangerous], but won’t provide the information for us to know that,” Meier said. 

Meier noted that Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead did tell CBS17 last week that one of the six that tested positive worked with inmates and that “a majority of the six employees worked on the first floor of the detention center where intake and booking occurs.” 

But official statements from the communications office have lacked those details. The release about Pettiway’s death offered condolences and, without drawing a direct connection, pointed out the steps the sheriff implemented more than a month ago to slow the spread of the virus. 

The jail took steps to fight the spread of coronavirus on March 16, including banning all in-person and video visitation, using video kiosks for client meetings and having all first appearance hearings via video conference. The medical staff has been conducting COVID-19 screenings and making masks available to inmates. 

Amid coronavirus outbreaks plaguing jails and prisons nationwide, Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry has worked to reduce the jail population. The jail is well below capacity with only 259 inmates out of a possible 736. Deberry also has worked to cut the state prison population by green-lighting modified sentences for some prisoners. 

“The Durham DA’s Office extends its deepest condolences for the loss of Senior Detention Officer Pettiway, a dedicated public servant. Our thoughts are with his family and the entire Durham County Sheriff’s Office,” Deberry told The 9th Street Journal via a spokesperson. “We will continue to review cases individually and make recommendations regarding release conditions based on public health and public safety.”

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

Six Durham County jail staff test positive for COVID-19

Six Durham County Sheriff’s Office employees assigned to the county jail have tested positive for COVID-19. 

No inmates have tested positive, according to a press release from Sheriff Clarence Birkhead. It’s not clear how many of the 262 inmates detained as of Wednesday have been tested for coronavirus.

Citing privacy concerns, the sheriff’s office did not identify where the six employees work at the Durham County Detention Center or the extent to which they interact with inmates or attorneys.

That didn’t sit well with Durham defense attorney Daniel Meier. Nor did the fact that the sheriff’s department did not notify local lawyers directly that some detention center staff have tested positive for coronavirus, he said.

That leaves lawyers with no idea whether they interacted with the six employees when checking in to speak with clients via video kiosks in the lobby of the detention facility, Meier said.

“Our frustration is they’re not even telling us what parts of the jail they worked in,” Meier said.

State officials report that 652 individuals have tested positive for coronavirus at state and federal prisons and in county jails in North Carolina. Among them, five have died.

The press release regarding the positive tests was released in conjunction with the Durham County Public Health Department, said David Bowser, the department’s communications and public relations manager. A state Department of Health and Human Services tally Wednesday says COVID-19 has been detected in correctional facilities in 12 counties, including Durham.

The sheriff’s department is working to prevent new inmates from bringing coronavirus to the detention center, Bowser said. When entering the facility, he said, new detainees are screened by a health provider. Those tested for coronavirus are held in one-person cells until test results are received.

The six employees who have tested positive are complying with coronavirus protocol, meaning they are under quarantine or being treated at a medical facility, Bowser said.

Only sheriff’s deputies assigned to the detention center work there now, Bowser said. All entering have their temperatures checked and must answer screening questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms.

Sheriff Birkhead’s office has been implementing additional procedures to protect inmates from coronavirus since mid-March.

“We really feel that we’re really adequately staffed over there to handle any situation,” Bowser said.

At top: The Durham County Detention Center is located downtown. Photo by Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia