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Saturday June 3rd

Despite end of NC's state of emergency, Orange County pandemic programs continue

<p>Masks lie at the entrance to Wilson Library on Jan. 9, 2022.&nbsp;</p>
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Masks lie at the entrance to Wilson Library on Jan. 9, 2022. 

Even with the expiration of the COVID-19-related state of emergency, Orange County continues to provide programs for those still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic.

Renée Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a change in the way of life for the general public.

“We will go to a new normal — going back to what it was is probably almost impossible,” Price said.

A few of the support systems Orange County offers include affordable housing, resources for elderly residents and social services. 

In regard to housing, Orange County's Emergency Housing Assistance(EHA) program provides aid to residents with low incomes and those struggling financially. 

Since March 2020, the EHA has provided over $6 million to Orange County residents to help with costs of rent, mortgage, utilities and other fees.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must earn no more than 30 percent of the area median income, have a housing need related to the COVID-19 pandemic and have insufficient funds to cover housing.

The current income limits for eligibility are $18,150 per year for a single-person household. For a household of four people, the income limit is $25,900.

Corey Root, Orange County's housing & community development director, said there are many ways to learn more about housing assistance in the county, including calling the Orange County housing helpline at  919-245-2655.

“A goal is to really make all of our programs as low barrier and hassle-free as possible,” Root said.

She also said many local initiatives were created as a response to the pandemic, including the Durham Eviction Diversion Program and the Long Time Homeowners Assistance Program – both of which are still ongoing.

The Orange County Department on Aging(OCDoA) also provides resources for those 60 years and older who are experiencing problems with adjusting to life post-pandemic,  Orange County Administrative Director Janice Tyler said.

The department offers programs with online options — including exercise classes, counseling services and virtual education programs — for those not prepared to leave their homes, according to the OCDoA.

Shenae McPherson, the volunteer connect 55+ administrator for the department, said the OCDoA has seen high participation rates in their virtual programs because they can more convenient for participants. 

She said OCDoA also conducts wellness checks to help monitor members of the community. These checks are performed either over the phone or in a person's driveway to preserve health and safety. 

McPherson added that these programs are crucial for isolated older adults who do not get much engagement during the day. She said these wellness programs are good because they limit contact between both parties while still allowing them both to stay social.

“It’s amazing what a phone call can do for a participant, but also what it could do for a volunteer,” she said.

Along with wellness checks, McPherson said there are various food distribution programs for those in need — including the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and  a daily hot lunch distribution program — both of which have curbside pickup options.

Kim Lamon-Loperfido, the aging transitions administrator for the Department on Aging, said it has partnered with the Orange County Department of Social Services to distribute iPads to some senior citizens. She said the program provides the participants the ability to access telehealth visits. 

The Department of Social Services also works to help those in the county who need assistance regarding unemployment, rent, utility payments, food and health care. 

McPherson said she has noticed the number of participants in OCDoA programs dwindling and that she hopes more people engage in the future. 

She also noted the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I think it’s important to stress the importance of our older adults and the rest of our community members to get vaccinated,” McPherson said. 

Price also said since the dire emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, that the community should begin moving forward. 


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