Greenville Convention Center

The Greenville Convention Center was to host the state GOP Convention next week.

Pitt County reported its seventh death and more than 30 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday while the Greenville Convention Center was forced to cancel plans to host the State GOP Convention.

The North Carolina Republican Party originally planed to hold it convention at the facility May 14-17. Local officials had been working with the party to reschedule it for Wednesday, but measures in place to control the spread of the virus have made it impossible, said Rhesa Tucker, the center’s CEO.

“I pulled the plug today. We are not going to be able to host it,” Tucker said Tuesday afternoon.

“We are going to honor the regulations and mandates set forth,” Tucker said. “We did everything humanly possible to make this conference become a reality but it just could not with the restrictions being put before us.”

Tucker said she’s worked with Gov. Roy Cooper’s office in recent weeks trying to find a way to host the event. There have been discussions about capacity and other ways of cutting back.

The state GOP agreed to cut attendance from 1,200 to 600 people. Party officials also committed to cutting it from a multi-day event to one day, Tucker said, but it wasn’t enough.

“Because of our partnership with a governmental agency (City of Greenville) we are not going to break the law,” Tucker said. “We are going to honor the restrictions set forth. It’s most unfortunate because it would have been a wonderful thing to host.”

The governor’s requirements for mass gatherings states that events that are not retail-based require that the occupancy rate be either 50 percent of a room’s occupancy or 12 people per 1,000 square feet, whichever is the smaller number, Tucker said.

What that meant only 345 people could be in a room resigned to hold 3,000, she said.

There also were restrictions around the service of food in a banquet-type setting, she said.

Tucker said the convention center has only hosted one event since gathering restrictions have been in place. The event was a consumer show that was governed under the rules for retail spaces, she said.

Tucker said state GOP leaders were understanding of the decision to cancel but she is still disappointed.

“I can’t tell you the hours I put into this the last six months,” she said. Planning began three years ago.

Except for the consumer show, every event scheduled between late March and June has canceled. Groups who planned events in September and October are also beginning to cancel. Tucker said she has had to furlough the center’s entire staff.

“It definitely will not be a quick rebound,” Tucker said. “A lot of conferences and conventions are already committed to 2021, so it might be 2023, 2024 before we are back in rotation for some of the large conferences we lost this year due to COVID.

“It’s been most devastating to our industry. Everyone has been hit hard, no one has been exempted, but the hospitality, travel and tourism industry has been hit harder than anyone,” she said.

The Pitt County Health Department reported Tuesday morning the total number of coronavirus cases had risen 694, up from 657 on Monday morning.

The county also reported another person had died from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths to seven. It was the fifth death reported in June.

The first two deaths were reported in April; two more were reported on June 15; two more were reported June 22.

The health department withheld the persons identity, age and gender. It said the person was older than 65.

Data from the health department show the county has averaged nearly 13 new virus cases daily from June 1-25. A total of 321 people tested during that time were positive, about half the total since the first cases were confirmed in March.

The increases are attributable in part to outbreaks at several area nursing homes and a child care center, health officials said.

A report updated by DHHS on Tuesday said a cluster at A Child’s Place on Moye Boulevard, whose clients include workers from nearby Vidant Medical Center, were still limited to seven staff members and two children.

Tuesday’s report on congregate living settings showed no changes at ongoing outbreaks at four Pitt County facilities:

  • One staff and two residents at Ayden Court Nursing and Rehabilitation.
  • Eighteen staff and 42 residents at East Carolina Rehab and Wellness.
  • Six staff at PruittHealth–Farmville.
  • Two staff and nine residents at Care One Assisted Living of Greenville.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported on Tuesday that 64,670 people have contracted the virus since the outbreak began in March. The total grew by more than 10,000 in a week’s time.

The department reported that 908 people were hospitalized statewide on Tuesday. It was the second-highest one-day total, with 915 hospitalized on June 23. Vidant Health reported that 48 people were hospitalized in its hospitals in eastern North Carolina.

Bobby Burns contributed to this report.