Officials in Greenville and Pitt County on Monday took steps to limit residents' movement to help contain the growing coronavirus outbreak following similar orders by the governor including extending the closure of all public schools through May.
The local and state orders impact a broad range of businesses, from gyms to hair salons, as the number of virus cases in Pitt County rose to six and cases statewide passed 300. A committee trying to pick ECU's next chancellor even suspended its search on Monday.

The county commissioners voted 8-1 to approve a shelter in place order for unincorporated areas of the county that will begin at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The vote expanded a state of emergency order that closed certain businesses in unincorporated parts of the county. Commissioner Lauren White cast the lone no vote.

The Greenville City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the city code that gives the mayor authority to declare states of emergency. The mayor now has the authority to to limit the movement of people in public places and the operation of “offices, business establishments, and other places to or from which people may travel or at which they may congregate.”

The council then approved a motion directing staff and Mayor P.J. Connelly to prepare a shelter in place order. Councilman William Bell, who made the motion, said it was to show the full council supported the action so Connelly did not have to make the decision alone.

Councilman Ricky Smiley, who participated in the meeting via telephone, thanked his colleagues.

“I don’t have to go very far to find a health care worker affected by this,” Smiley said. “My wife would be intubating patients with the coronavirus.”

State actions

The county commissioners and city council made their respective decisions on the same day nearly 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina, including six in Pitt County.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday announced new assembly and business restrictions would be enacted in the coming days but did not issue a shelter in place order.

Cooper also ordered all public schools to suspend in-person instruction until May 15.

Cooper said that he had issued a new executive order that would close businesses such as gyms, hair salons, movie theaters and similar businesses starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Pitt County government issued a state of emergency ordering similar closures starting 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

The City of Greenville, which on Sunday ordered its playgrounds, recreational areas, shelters and restrooms closed on Monday, said it wasn’t issuing an additional state of emergency order and would enforce the governor’s order.

Cooper said the new executive order will make it a misdemeanor for assemblies of more than 50 people, compared to the current prohibition of over 100. The 50-person limit is in keeping with the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but are necessary to save lives,” Cooper said at a news conference. Cooper said he wasn’t giving up yet on the public school year, and education officials are working on online instructional assistance.

Restaurants and bars can remain open, but only for delivery or take-out meals. Universities have shifted to online instruction.

‘Stay at home’

Pitt County’s public health director is urging people to stay home after announcing the county had 6 COVID-19 cases as of Monday.

Dr. John Silvernail released a letter to the public urging them to only leave home to attend essential work, purchase food, medicine and other crucial items or to exercise.

The six COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Pitt County all are associated with travel, Silvernail said, but he is certain that community transmission is likely and additional Pitt County cases will be identified.

“If individuals will take staying home seriously and continue to do a great job of practicing social distancing when it is absolutely necessary to leave home, the impact of this virus will be lessened,” he said.

Pitt County Schools is continuing its grab and go meal services and school bus meal distribution. Visit www.pittschools.org for the latest schedules and sites.

Online instruction

Pitt County Schools will begin online instruction on March 30.

Teachers will use several online platforms and contact students and parents through their Pitt County Schools email addresses or other means. Students and parents are urged to to visit https://www.pitt.k12.nc.us and looking for “COVID-19 Virtual Learning” at the top of the page by Wednesday for comprehensive information.

Students who have access to the internet but do not have a device at home can receive one device per household to access their classes.

Devices, device contracts and device instructions will be distributed at each school site beginning on Wednesday.

Device requests and online forms also are available on the school system’s website. Internet providers are offering reduced or free rates for students and families. The school system said families should contact the providers in their area.

Students living in areas without internet access can receive paper packets if requested. Families should contact their home school to request packets of information.

Information about lessons for students with varying abilities will be made available on the school system’s website.

A school system news release said the state plans to request testing and grade-related waivers.

The news release said Cooper is prioritizing this year’s senior class to ensure they can graduate and continue their education, enter the workforce, or undertake other endeavors next year.

State of emergency

Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin McLawhorn signed a new state of emergency declaration to put the new restrictions in place.

The declaration includes requirements for some types of businesses to close, prohibits gatherings of 50 people or more and restricts the use of playground equipment at parks while maintaining access to open-air spaces and greenways.

These restrictions are set to last for approximately two weeks, at which time a re-evaluation will take place.

Full restrictions of the new declaration include closing fitness clubs, gyms, hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tanning, massage, and tattoo salons and other professional grooming services.

Mass gatherings of 50 or more people, including both staff and patrons, also are canceled.

It does not include organizations that provide critical services like hospitals, day cares, government operations, financial institutions; or retailers of essential goods like grocery stores, pharmacies, pet stores and hardware stores.

It also does not include businesses located within the city limits of the county’s 10 municipalities. Those entities must adopt their own states of emergency.

Health guidelines

People who are sick should call their health care provider for guidance, Silvernail said.

People who mild symptoms should rest, eat well, wash and sanitize their hands often, and stay home. People caring for sick individuals should follow the same recommendations. “Leaving home, unless directed to visit a healthcare provider, is not a good idea as it exposes other high-risk individuals.,” Silvernail said. “It also exposes healthcare providers, who need to stay well to care for those who are seriously ill.”

Silvernail said people should exercise because it is a stress reliever but should avoid community areas such as gyms.

“Residents can utilize the numerous trails and green spaces within Pitt County, but should continue to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet between themselves and others,” he said.

The City of Greenville on Sunday announced that starting Monday it was closing playgrounds and shelters but is keeping park green spaces and greenways home for now.

Silvernail said people should be wary of information circulating throughout social media because much of it is inaccurate.

People should seek guidance from reliable sources such as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are links to those sites through Pitt County’s Coronavirus Information Page: www.PittCountyNC.gov/Coronavirus.

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