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Sunday September 19th

Carrboro Town Council expresses concern over COVID-19 outbreaks

<p>The Carrboro Town Council met on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 to discuss growing concerns about COVID-19 after amid UNC's growing case numbers. UNC reported 135 new cases among students and employees the day before the meeting.</p>
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The Carrboro Town Council met on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 to discuss growing concerns about COVID-19 after amid UNC's growing case numbers. UNC reported 135 new cases among students and employees the day before the meeting.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the number of COVID-19 cases present in Orange County to the town of Carrboro. The article has been updated to attribute the correct case load with the proper area. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

Members of the Carrboro Town Council met Tuesday to address growing concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic in the wake of rising case numbers at UNC and surrounding areas.

Dave Schmidt, chief of the Carrboro Fire Department, presented new data on COVID-19 to the Town Council. Schmidt said Orange County has seen a 12 percent increase in new cases in the past week and an increase of 23 percent over the last three weeks. Orange County is now averaging 17 new cases a day, he said.

Schmidt said there are five COVID-19 outbreaks in Orange County at present and two of these outbreaks — one at the Crescent Green assisted living community and one at The Stratford assisted living community — are in Carrboro. 

Schmidt also clarified that it is still unknown whether the new cases reported by UNC are impacting the case numbers in Carrboro. 

However, he presented some information about COVID-19 outbreaks at UNC, which he said was given to him at a meeting of emergency management officials from across the region.

“UNC reported, system-wide, 120 cases across all their hospitals, and they’re seeing a slight trend downward,” Schmidt said at the meeting. “They reported about 25 students into the ER on Friday and then several more over the weekend.”

In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, Schmidt said the numbers of students taken to the ER over the weekend were presented by a representative from UNC Hospitals. It is unclear as to how many students were taken in because of COVID-19, he said. 

Council Member Jacquelyn Gist said bureaucracy and hierarchy have been major obstacles to obtaining clear, concise and accurate COVID-19 data.

She said she believed people would be calmer if they had a thorough understanding of the data and were receiving data for the entirety of Orange County, as opposed to conflicting numbers from its different municipalities.

Gist urged Schmidt to consolidate the county’s case statistics into a clear, singular number that includes everyone currently living in Orange County. In response, Schmidt said national conventions for data collection prescribe that case numbers are reported to individuals’ county of permanent residence, which, for UNC students, may not be Orange County itself.

“I’d like to ask on behalf of many citizens that live here, please straighten that problem out,” Gist said. “It’s caught up in bureaucratic red tape and people are hiding behind process.”

Other council members, including Council Member Randee Haven-O’Donnell asked Schmidt how the Town is studying the pandemic’s impacts on essential workers — who she speculated might be disproportionately impacted by the virus. Haven-O’Donnell inquired about how the county is implementing safety plans in anticipation of additional outbreaks.

“I will certainly ask,” Schmidt replied.

Council Member Sammy Slade was critical of the University’s lack of transparency in the wake of the new outbreaks. 

He called for the public version of the UNC coronavirus dashboard to be updated daily as opposed to weekly, citing an N.C. Policy Watch report which said the construction of a comprehensive, system-wide dashboard with daily updates was possible. The report goes on to say the construction of this dashboard is underway, but the UNC System will not be making it available to the public. 

Slade referenced reports that the University distorted conversations with Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart.

“I find it disgraceful for the Provost and the Chancellor, if those reports are true, to misrepresent what those conversations had been,” Slade said.

Slade said it was the council’s duty, as representatives of the Town, to protect the safety and well-being of the community, adding he was saddened to see the relationship between the Town of Carrboro and the University soured by the material consequences of the University administration’s decisions.

“I know we’re in the South, and we like to keep things nice,” Slade said, “but sometimes we have to be real, and we have to be truthful and we have to speak out.”

@SLesnewski | @GMolero1

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