The Chapel Hill Town Council called a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the growing coronavirus outbreak and the Town’s response.
Chapel Hill declared a stay-at-home order in line with Orange County. The order was declared Thursday morning and will go into effect Friday at 6 p.m. As of now, it will last until the end of April, but Mayor Pam Hemminger said the Town will be able to revise or dismiss the order depending on how circumstances evolve.
Town Manager Maurice Jones said the Town activated the Emergency Operations Center on March 12 in addition to closing many public facilities — like the public library — and suspending public meetings until March 30 in an effort to discourage mass gatherings.
Jones said Chapel Hill Transit has been moved to the Saturday route schedule and ridership has been significantly reduced.
“We are now averaging about 500 rides per day on Chapel Hill transit,” Jones said. “You can contrast that with our normal spring break schedule, where we would normally have 15,000 rides on the spring break schedule. And under normal conditions, Chapel Hill Transit would have over 29,000 rides in a day.”
Despite many of the Town’s facilities and services having been reduced or closed, Jones said emergency calls will continue to see a police, fire and emergency response. He said law enforcement that does not need a police officer present, like reporting a stolen item, will be done over the phone. Fire inspections are on an on-call basis.
“During any event, or any condition, public safety is a mandatory function, and the men and women of our police and fire departments continue to keep our residents safe,” Jones said.
Jones also enlisted medical professionals from UNC Health to provide information and updates about the virus.
Dr. Amir Barzin, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine, said the state issued guidance that prioritized coronavirus testing for hospitalized patients, who should be isolated to prevent the virus from spreading.
Barzin said UNC Health has opened Respiratory Diagnostic Centers that are spread across areas that the UNC Health system is involved in. The goal of these centers is to provide evaluation for possible respiratory complaints, evaluate for testing if they are in a high-risk population and to keep patients in a more isolated setting.
In addition to medical and operational updates, Hemminger praised the efforts of community organizations and volunteers for continuing to provide food to food-insecure community members. Last week, organizations including TABLE, PORCH and the Inter-Faith Council managed to provide bags of groceries and grocery store gift cards to families.
These organizations' regular volunteers are seniors, but since seniors are among those more vulnerable to COVID-19, many volunteers have been unable to continue helping in order to stay safe and healthy.
“All these organizations still need help,” Hemminger said. “We need donations of food and funds and volunteers. There are many volunteer opportunities where you don’t have to interact with people.”
Some students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools rely on their schools for meals. Food for Students, a coordinated effort of volunteers, organizations and the school district, provided breakfast, lunch and snacks for 1,200 students at almost 30 sites last week. Bus drivers managed the logistics of transporting meals to the sites, where they helped volunteers distribute the food to students, as well as ensured the students were practicing social distancing while waiting for their meals.
Food for Students will continue to provide meals to students while classes remain canceled and are identifying ways to ensure no student goes hungry.
Hemminger and the Council thanked the Town staff for their work in coordinating the Town’s response to the outbreak. She also stressed the importance of complying with social distancing and practicing good hygiene.
“I know this is hard and that people are being impacted in many difficult ways,” Hemminger said. “We are a resilient community and a caring community. I know we’ll come through this by taking bold actions now and coming together to help everyone get through this. The sooner everyone gets on board with following safety protocols, the more lives we save, and the sooner we can get back and running again.”
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