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ECU chancellor search put on hold due to COVID-19

The search for East Carolina University’s next chancellor is temporarily paused due to the impact of COVID-19, said Board of Trustees Chairman Vern Davenport.

Davenport, speaking at Monday’s chancellor’s search committee meeting, said UNC System President Bill Roper agreed to the pause. The situation would be reassessed in a couple of weeks when it is feasible to bring candidates to the campus for visits.

“This is not a three-month, six-month, annual or year-long kind of pause, we’re just putting it on pause for a couple of weeks and in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic I think everyone’s going to understand the perspective and appreciate the communication,” said Davenport, who is also chairman of the search committee.

While deadline for candidates to submit applications was March 16, Davenport said the candidate pool is not full. The committee is continuing to actively recruit candidates, speak with interested candidates and receive applications and nominations.

There have been 50 nominations and 60 full applications for the chancellorship, said Lynn Duffy, senior associate vice president for leadership development and talent acquisition for the UNC System Office.

“In terms of the candidate pool, what I would say is we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve seen from both the quality and the quantity of the applicants,” Duffy said.

Duffy said on the surface it appears the pool of candidates is diverse but they won’t know until they start meeting candidates.

“Over the next several weeks we want to make a targeted effort particularly to reach out to diverse candidates, we want to have a well-rounded pool in the truest sense of the words, to be clear we will continue to accept applications, in fact, we got an application this morning (March 23),” Duffy said.

All members of the search committee are required to complete unconscious bias training, Davenport said.

“There has been nothing that I know of that we have done that should give anyone any perspective that we are not interested in a diverse candidate and as Lynn said that has been a very specific focus of this search and to some degree we feel like we have a diverse pool, as Lynn commented on and we’re going to continue to focus on that as we have another two or three weeks to do so,” Davenport said.

Crystal Chambers, vice chairwoman of ECU Faculty, said she was concerned after reaching out to nominees.

“Well, people think ECU is not serious about having a person of color, or a woman, or someone who is a person of color and that happens to be a woman as well, as a candidate,” Chambers said. “And so when I reach out and have these discussions, I feel like I’m in this uphill conversation about how serious ECU is about having a robust candidate pool, that we want to have the best people with the best experiences, the best qualifications and that really means looking at a little bit of everybody.”

Coronavirus measures taking toll on communities

GRIFTON — The streets in town were eerily quiet.

The Dollar General, the only source for groceries, had the only stream of steady of traffic — second only to the town’s two gas stations.

Across from the Dollar General, Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries is open — for takeout only.

The parking lot is empty but for two folding tables and a handful of chairs, a silent invitation to eat in the open air.

Owner Kelly Buck, 28, is adhering to a statewide order for bars and restaurants be closed to dine-in. The order is among a growing number of restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has infected hundreds in North Carolina and killed more than 400 in the United States and more than 16,000 worldwide.

Efforts may help to slow the spread of the virus but they are hurting local businesses. Buck said her evening crowd has been decent, but lunch business has taken a dive.

“That is when everybody would come in — on their lunch hour,” she said.

So far, no one has taken up the offer to eat at the tables in the parking lot.

Instead, she said many who come, sit on truck tailgates, keeping proper distance from fellow diners, allowing them to be social within the set guidelines.

Never before has she seen such a dramatic drop off.

“So far, customers have been very understanding,” Buck said.

She admits to being worried, but she remains hopeful that this will pass soon and that customers won’t soon tire of the take-out only rule.

Down the street, across from one of the gas stations, 19-year-old Zorab, sits outside, passing time on his cellular device, waiting for the phone to ring inside Greg’s Pizza.

Greg’s has been his family’s business in Grifton for 35 years — enduring floods from hurricanes Floyd and Matthew.

Even so, Zorab has never seen business this bad, he said.

A freshman at East Carolina University, he is frustrated with the whole virus situation. The campus is closed to students and he said is not a fan of doing schoolwork on the computer — the university system has closed campuses and instituted alternative classes.

He and his brother are helping with the family’s livelihood, but the phone is not ringing often enough.

Inside, this mother, Aida Galstyan, originally from Armenia, cooks the few orders that have come in.

“We need to pray,” Aida said about the spreading virus and the dwindling business.

Zorab theorizes business is slow because people have been steadily stocking up on groceries. For now, patrons seem to be staying home and cooking.

“They will [hopefully] soon get tired of cooking,” he said.

At Dollar General, two lone packages of toilet paper sit on a mostly empty shelf. The delivery truck had come earlier that morning and the two packs were all that was left of the high-demand paper product.

“People are acting like it is the end of the world,” said one of the Grifton Dollar General managers, Patrice Smith. “Some people are coming in and buying everything off the shelves and not leaving anything for other customers.”

She said they only can restock weekly.

“We only get a truck once a week,” said.

“Once it’s gone — it’s gone, until the following week. That is why we are asking people not come in and buy all their stuff at one time. You’ve got to think about other people,” she added.

She said all the Dollar Generals across the state get restocked once week.

Other items she has seen disappear as soon as they hit the shelves are hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays.

“It’s good if people come in and get one, two, or maybe three of something — use it — then come back the following week,” she said.

Smith admits to being overwhelmed at times.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she added.

An elderly mother and her son shopped for groceries, wearing surgical masks, because of her compromised immune system.

She is also deaf, so she depends on her son’s assistance.

Her son asked they not be identified because his mother lives alone. Her children check on her often and bring her food, her son said. He works at McDonald’s in Kinston.

“She is pretty much quarantined,” he said. “I think the U.S. has responded, maybe in an overly cautious way, but I feel like it was the right way. If everybody does what they are supposed to do – I think it will all be over soon,” he said.

A Hispanic family of six sent their young daughter into the Dollar General for a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

She came back jubilant, finding the last bottle the store had. Her parents spoke very little English but said they were worried.

“There is not a lot left in the grocery stores,” the daughter interpreted.

In Ayden, a downtown eatery and anchor, Bum’s Restaurant, sits silent. Chairs are piled on top of tables and two waitresses sit idle.

Because restaurants and bars across the state must now only serve take-out, a vital ingredient is missing from eating Bum’s barbecue — community fellowship.

Owner Larry Dennis was unavailable for comment, but it was apparent business was down. Open since 1963, much of the downtown clientele that frequents Bum’s have been sent home.

Down the street, the Skylight Inn, another legendary Ayden barbecue establishment, seemed to fare a little better.

Co-owner of the restaurant, Bruce Jones said, “I’ve seen better days.”

His father, Pete Jones established the business 73 years ago. Bruce estimates the business is down by at least half.

Even during the floods, they did not experience such a drop in business, he said.

“We were open within two days. It didn’t hurt business that much,” he added.

Will Stafford has worked at the Skylight Inn for six years.

He said he feels bad for many of the hourly workers who work in restaurants.

“Typically, (restaurant work) is a temporary job and most live paycheck to paycheck. When they don’t get that paycheck, they don’t eat,” he said.

Those in the food service business are hurting, he continued.

“This is people’s livelihood. People that go into the restaurant business invest everything they have,” he said.

He knows the ban on dining in is for the “greater good.”

“But, there will be some who will lose their cars, their house and, or their business because of the ban,” he said. “It is unfortunate. This is something affecting the whole world right now. The whole world may as well be flooded right now.”

In Winterville, the Dixie Queen has decided to close its doors for the time being. A sign on the door states that, “Due to the governor’s decision, we are forced to be closed for vacation.”

Main and Mill Oyster Bar and Tavern was offering call in service for curbside pickup.

The one place in Winterville that saw an uptick in business was the Local Oak Brewing Company.

Husband and wife owners Ben Self and Amy Amacker, have been in business for three months.

Self said they were so busy because, “We are the only ones open.”

With online ordering and payment, the risk of spreading the virus was kept to a minimum. Curbside pickup was quick and convenient at their location at 2564 Railroad St.

Self’s customers all were in favor of supporting local business.

Chris Currin, who painted the Local Oak’s sign on the side of the building, was one of the many patrons stopping by.

Currin said he has been using Uber Eats, ordering food online and having it delivered to his home.

The Local Oak does not serve food.

Dustin Allis of Winterville stopped by to pick up his favorite beer, “See These Ice Creams.”

“It is made from Bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans from Lanoca Coffee Company in Farmville,” he said.

Go-home, stay home is virus firewall, leaders say

Greenville’s mayor stopped short of issuing a stay-at-home order on Tuesday as stricter measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 loomed large over businesses and workers.

P.J. Connelly issued no order but released a video asking residents to stay home, and the city followed suit by telling non-essential employees to stay away starting today. The Greenville City Council on Monday, at the request of local health officials, authorized Connelly to issue an order at his discretion.

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners on Monday did issue a two-week mandate to close some businesses in unincorporated areas and ordered residents in non-essential jobs to stay home except for food, medical care, exercise and essential needs.

“This is a tough thing for me to ask,” Connelly said in the video released shortly before 4 p.m. “But it is in the best interest of our city, and I’m going to ask you all to do your part.”

The effect of staying home on local businesses might be severe, Connelly said.

“I will assure you that the city will continue to work with our local, state and federal officials to look for ways to support those businesses and impacted workers during and after this difficult time,” he said.

The formal order on www.pittcountync.gov/coronavirus lists 25 essential business types ranging from groceries, food service, drug stores and health care providers to lawyers offices and laundries. The exemption list covers a broad range of manufacturing, trades and other occupations. But many businesses like hair salons, gyms, some offices and retail shops face temporary closure.

Health officials said the measures are necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 15,000 worldwide and infected 400 people in North Carolina. Officials fear the virus is beginning to spread from person to person locally.

“The reason that you go home, stay home is because of what you just heard, called community spread,” Vidant Health CEO Michael Waldrum said during a Tuesday news conference with government and health officials. “Community spread means that you’re on a growth curve, once that virus gets into a community, it starts spreading and the number of cases increases.”

As of Tuesday, six Pitt County residents had tested positive for COVID-19, Pitt County Health Director Dr. John Silvernail said. A total of 122 people locally have been tested; 40 were negative and the results of 76 are pending. One patient has been hospitalized and the rest of the patients have mild cases.

Two patients are college aged, two are middle aged and one is elderly, Silvernail said. The age of the sixth patient was not identified.

One is North Pitt High School employee, another works in the Environmental Health Division of the Health Department. Silvernail said he didn’t know about the other’s occupations.

To his knowledge the six in Pitt County were not around large numbers of people prior to their diagnosis. Officials believe all six people contracted the illness outside the county, but Silvernail does suspect there is transmission within the community.

About 80 percent of those who contract COVID-19 will only have a mild to moderate illness, Silvernail said. Fifteen percent will have a severe illness and 5 percent will have a critical illness requiring medical support.

Silvernail said there is a provision that makes disobeying the go-home, stay-home order a Class II misdemeanor. He said the county order authorizes officials to disburse gatherings of 10 or more people.

“We’re a leader in the east and we chose to be a leader in the east last night,” Silvernail said of the county order, “And we have our reasons for doing that, again that’s kind of our final firewall against this infection.”

Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott said the two week stay-home period will help spread out the number of people that must be hospitalized so that health care resources will not be exhausted. The period applies to unincorporated Pitt County.

More than 15 states have some kind of “shelter-in-place” order, the Associated Press reported, as has Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s most populous area.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued new orders this week closing several categories of entertainment and personal service establishments by late Wednesday afternoon. Schools are now closed through mid-May and gatherings of more than 50 will now be unlawful under the state order, which applies to municipalities including Greenville.

Pitt County Public Schools Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson said during Tuesday’s news conference that schools will remain closed until May 15 for in-person instruction.

The school system on Monday will begin providing alternative classes to its 24,000 students, she said.

For students who have the internet but need devices, one device will be provided per household, Johnson said. For those without the internet, paper packets will be provided.

The schools are continuing to provide meals to students who normally eat breakfast and lunch at the schools and others who need them. About 40,000 meals were provided last week for children 1-18, and 12,000 meals are being provided a day, Johnson said.