The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday September 24th

Column: Local officials discuss how they're leading Orange County through crisis

<p>Carrboro town council member Damon Seils (left) interviewed Quintana Stewart (middle), the Orange County health director, and Dinah Jeffries (right), the Orange County emergency services director, about the county's pandemic response. Photo courtesy of Damon Seils.</p>
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Carrboro town council member Damon Seils (left) interviewed Quintana Stewart (middle), the Orange County health director, and Dinah Jeffries (right), the Orange County emergency services director, about the county's pandemic response. Photo courtesy of Damon Seils.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Damon Seils is a member of the Carrboro Town Council.

As we begin Phase 2.5 of North Carolina’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to avoid feeling like we’re entering another long season of unknowns. What we do know is the end isn’t yet in sight. We have to continue our collective work to slow the spread in our community.

Rather than offer a traditional opinion column, I wanted to highlight the work of the two people leading Orange County’s pandemic response. Quintana Stewart is the Orange County health director, and Dinah Jeffries is the Orange County emergency services director. They agreed to answer a few questions.

Seils: You are the leaders of the local response to the pandemic. What are your roles, and how do you work together?

Stewart: As the county health director, I promote public health and prevention activities. I’m also charged with communicable disease control. This requires my team and I to investigate cases and outbreaks and to implement control measures to slow the spread of the disease.

Jeffries: The key words are “working together.” Our teams have different missions, and the two of us communicate frequently to assure our teams have the support they need. My team’s role is to ensure the safety of residents and responders and the continuity of services. We connect all the response partners and agencies so they complement each other and avoid duplicating efforts. We are also the county’s connection to state and federal assistance.

Seils: How is Orange County different from or similar to other communities in North Carolina when it comes to the pandemic response?

Stewart: Orange County has a diverse population. We must be mindful of language and other cultural differences as we share public health messages. We are also home to the UNC System’s largest school, which means we have a robust college town. Like other communities across the country, ours is concerned about economic stability and the social norms that have been affected during this unprecedented time. Our differences afford us the opportunity to be creative and innovative in our approaches as we work on our common goal of suppressing the virus.

Jeffries: Orange County is fortunate to have the resources we have and the support of government leaders and partners. I think every community has unique challenges, but I strongly believe every community is recognizing how dependent we are on one another. The pandemic has challenged my team to be creative and flexible while continuing to provide the excellent service the community has grown to expect.

Seils: We’re six months into the state of emergency. What are the most important things residents can do now?

Stewart: This pandemic is very different from what North Carolina experienced with H1N1 in 2009. As difficult as it is, I ask everyone to remain vigilant in practicing health and safety precautions. If we remember to move in a way that honors and protects our neighbors, I’m confident we’ll get through this a stronger, more united community. The health department has created a COVID-19 website with a wealth of knowledge, including health information, mental health resources, housing assistance and much more.

Jeffries: This has been one of the most difficult crises our community has faced, because the impact is not restricted to an area, and it’s invisible. Our residents are definitely the “leaders” in the community by encouraging and practicing the guidelines. I’ve always used the African proverb “It takes a village” when referring to raising a child. It applies to this pandemic and taking care of one another more than ever. Our nonprofits can use your help, too. Consider donating to local food pantries and other nonprofits in the area. Consider volunteering, and continue checking on neighbors who are in vulnerable and at-risk populations. 

Seils: I’m one of about 40 local elected officials in Orange County. We’re used to residents bringing us questions and advocating for the community. In a public health emergency, how can local elected officials be most useful?

Stewart and Jeffries: Keep pushing the pandemic precaution messages, and stay consistent. Encourage everyone to continue practicing the three Ws. Continue representing your community by being a voice of reason. The most important part our elected officials play is maintaining calm and making sure the community has accurate information about the response and recovery.

There you have it: Know your three Ws, stay informed and help your neighbors. We’re in this together.

If you have questions about how you can help Orange County battle the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 919-245-6111. If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email city@dailytarheel.com. 

 @DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com  

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