Greenville leaders on Wednesday issued a stay-at-home order falling in line with other local governments trying to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The order announced during a news conference at City Hall came on the same day that North Carolina reported its first two deaths related to the virus and the total confirmed cases in the state passed the 500 mark, growing by 100 from Tuesday’s total.

The order requires city residents to stay home beginning at 5 p.m. today unless they are out for food, medicine, caring for a loved one or going to a job deemed as an essential service.

Mayor P.J. Connelly signed a proclamation of emergency deemed a “Stop the Spread” order. A similar order approved by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners went into effect Wednesday. Ayden and Grimesland also have orders in place.

Mecklenburg County, Durham and Madison County also issued orders. Wake County planned to roll out a similar order soon, the Associated Press reported.

“We have urged residents to practice good hygiene, advised our community to stay at home and adjusted our own city operations to address the issue,” Connelly said. “However, based on the guidance received by health officials, emergency management and my fellow members of the City Council, we feel it’s time to make an executive decision to keep our community healthy.”

The order will remain in effect until Good Friday, which is April 10 at 5 p.m. It will be regularly reviewed to see if changes or extensions are needed, Connelly said.

It says non-essential operations must cease activities “except minimum basic operations.” Non-essential businesses include all operations in the city not defined essential by the order.

It lists nearly two dozen types of businesses that are essential, ranging from grocery stores and pharmacies to gas stations and automotive related businesses, laundry services, restaurants for consumption off premises to hotels and motels.

The order also allows public and private outdoor golf courses to remain open if employees and patrons comply with social distancing requirements.

“We took some time to discuss the details of this order and feel we have crafted a carefully balanced pro health directives and pro business guidelines,” Connelly said. “It’s our hope that we can all do our part to abide by the order so we can all get through and get back to normalcy in our lives very soon.”

Connelly said the city and Greenville Police Department believe educating the public is the first step in enforcing the order.

“That’s been working for us to this point. We have a lot of confidence in our local community, the response we’ve gotten up to this point has been compliance and we hope that will continue,” Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman said. “We are prepared to enforce with citations if we need to but that will certainly be a last resort.”

Connelly said he would like to see a statewide stay-home order issued to more effectively battle the spread of the virus. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, state Rep. Perrin Jones and Vidant Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum in urging other governments to adopt similar messages.

“Do everything we can to protect our economy, our lives and position us for recovery,” Waldrum said. “This will help us come out of this pandemic in a stronger and more vibrant way.”

“We will come out of this,” Murphy said. “I am hopeful by the summertime we are in a much better place, and we want people who have the knowledge and expertise still employed so we don’t have to recreate our workforce.”

Murphy said businesses that are closing should not lose hope because the Senate on Thursday was finalizing a $2 trillion stimulus plan that included forgivable small business loans for communities that keep employees on the payroll and maintain their health care and other benefits.

“There is literally no reason at this point and time to lay off workers,” Murphy said.

If Congress quickly approves the final bill and sends it to the president, Murphy said people could see a stimulus check as soon as three weeks if they had already submitted the 2019 tax returns.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday additional state directives are coming during a news conference about the two deaths, a person from Cabarrus County and another person from Virginia who was traveling through the state. About 30 people were hospitalized, authorities said, and some were in critical condition.

There were no new cases reported Wednesday in Pitt County, where the total stood at six.

North Carolina has not issued a statewide shelter-in-place order but has gradually reduced allowable gathering sizes, ordered some nonessential businesses to close starting Wednesday and shuttered K-12 schools until mid-May. Trade groups representing hospitals and doctors have written Cooper asking him to issue more statewide restrictions.

Without giving specifics, Cooper said further guidance and orders would be upcoming. He urged people to stay at home and businesses to get their telecommuting options in order.

“Local communities are doing what they think is right and I understand that. It’s important for (state officials) to make sure we are deliberate and that we get this right,” Cooper said. “We will be issuing additional orders soon.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The tighter restrictions came as General Assembly members held their first formal meeting to determine what lawmakers can offer to buttress the state’s response. GOP House Speaker Tim Moore created four COVID-19 working groups, led by both Republicans and Democrats, that could recommend bills to the full legislature when it reconvenes.

The annual session is set to begin April 28, but there’s been talk that the governor would call lawmakers back sooner. Cooper has said his administration is compiling legislative action and spending requests. Moore and one House colleague were the only members to attend the economic work group meeting in person at the Legislative Building, with the rest participating by video conference.

The speaker said chamber leaders were looking at ways to reduce the spreading threat should they reconvene. Moore said one way would be to expand the time period to complete floor votes, currently 15 seconds for the House, to an hour, so that members can avoid close contact with each other. The state constitution requires a majority of legislators in a chamber be “actually present” to complete public business.

“This is an unprecedented time in our state, and it’s an unprecedented time here at the legislature,” Moore said.

GOP Senate leader Phil Berger and Minority Leader Dan Blue said Wednesday in a joint statement that fellow senators would collect ideas with a goal of coming to a consensus with Cooper and the House on “how to help all North Carolinians.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.