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Friday May 20th

'I’m still not back to being me': Q&A with Mayor Pam Hemminger

<p>Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks Aug. 26, 2021, while masked during a press conference at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro.</p>
Buy Photos Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks Thursday, Aug. 26, 2022, at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro.

Amid a record-breaking post-holiday surge in cases, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger tested positive for COVID-19. The Daily Tar Heel spoke with Hemminger about what measures Chapel Hill leadership aims to take in order to mitigate the pandemic’s effects, her personal experience with COVID-19 and hopes for the new year.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: What are some steps Chapel Hill can take toward stopping the new COVID-19 wave?

Mayor Pam Hemminger: The best step is to educate people on mask-wearing differently now because we’re learning that the KN-95 and surgical masks are much better than wearing a cloth mask.

DTH: In a November press release, Orange County said it would extend the indoor public mask mandate and that it would be reevaluated in mid-January. Given the current wave, what masking and social distancing protocols would you like to see extended or modified?

PH: We want to keep the indoor mask mandate. We’d like to tweak it to help people understand to wear better masks.

Mental health is an issue now, too. People need to get out and do normal things, but it’s winter so it makes it a little harder to do those outdoor things. As I tell others, we’re going to have to learn to live with this virus.

DTH: Orange County has the highest vaccination rate of any county in North Carolina,  with about 75 percent having had primary shots. How do you convince the remaining 25 percent to get vaccinated?

PH: We’ve tried everything to get people to get vaccinated. We’ve tried really hard to express keeping yourself safe, keeping others safe and not overwhelming the healthcare system.

Boosting is going well in our county, and I think it’s been just a matter of supply and time and willingness. We’re going to see that number of vaccinations go up because children are getting those boosters.

DTH: What does testing availability look like across the Chapel Hill area?

PH: It’s been hard. There’s a shortage, and we can’t say, 'go to one of our neighboring counties, they’ve got extra supply.' We are trying to tell people they have to make appointments to get those tests. 

DTH: How does having students back on UNC’s campus change the pandemic situation in Chapel Hill?

PH: We have some people who tend to panic when student numbers surge. The way that I tell them to be careful is, 'don’t go out and frequent where students do if that’s your big concern,' which makes it hard on businesses downtown. 

The students did a good job getting vaccinated. We’re really proud of them for that, and I know they will continue to get boosted. They want to get past this virus, too.

DTH: What is Chapel Hill’s plan to recover transit service losses due to the pandemic?

PH: We’ve raised the pay, we’ve done a signing bonus, we’ve structured hours, we’ve recruited in places we’ve had good workers come from before, and we’ll continue to do those things to try to get folks to work.

DTH: Several Franklin Street restaurant owners have expressed that sidewalk dining has helped them stay afloat during the pandemic. With the extended sidewalks removed from East Franklin Street early this year, what is the plan for sidewalk seating and extended sidewalks in the future? 

PH: We’re excited about expanded dining, but it wasn’t as successful on East Franklin. But the west end, we will be keeping it. We’re in discussions with the [N.C. Department of Transportation] about taking the road back over so that we can continue to run it the way we would like to run it.

DTH: How has your personal experience with COVID-19 been? Has your experience changed your outlook on the pandemic?

PH: It was frustrating, and I felt a little embarrassed to have come down with COVID because I’m one of the ones telling people to be careful.

You don’t see it coming. It becomes very real, and you realize how you can’t work and how you have no energy and how it invades your whole body. I’ve had the flu before and been sick before, but this has been three weeks already, and I’m still not back to being me.

DTH: Where do you hope Chapel Hill will be with regard to COVID-19 at the end of 2022?

PH: We’re poised to thrive. We’ve learned so much through COVID. We’ve learned what our community likes and wants, we’ve learned about how our businesses succeed, we’re having better conversations, we’re doing things differently and we’re focusing more on pulling together rather than each individual surviving. 

I see our community coming out of this stronger. I see us being resilient because we believe in science. I see us working toward an outcome that involves everyone, not just some people.

@ethanehorton1

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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