As more Chatham County residents hunker down in their homes aiming to avoid contact with COVID-19 and help curb its spread, traffic on local roads and highways is noticeably light.
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SILER CITY — As more Chatham County residents hunker down in their homes aiming to avoid contact with COVID-19 and help curb its spread, traffic on local roads and highways is noticeably light.
“We’re definitely noticing our call volume go down,” said N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Marsh, who works out of the Patrol’s regional office serving Chatham and Lee counties.
“But there’s still traffic,” he said last week before a statewide stay-at-home order was enacted by Gov. Roy Cooper. “People are still out and about.”
The Patrol remains fully staffed, Marsh said, and Patrol officers continue to do their jobs.
“It’s business as usual and we’re still responding to calls,” the sergeant said. “Nothing with our mission has changed yet.”
The Patrol, while continuing with duties, has implemented some new measures as the statewide law enforcement agency adjusts to working during the COVID-19 pandemic, including additional cleaning of vehicles to limit officers’ exposure to the novel coronavirus.
“We’re having officers clean the inside of their patrol cars daily,” said Marsh. “And they’re social distancing. With this job, that’s not always possible, but we’re doing that to the extent we can.”
Fewer people operating their cars and trucks, of course, means decreased need for auto repairs; and this is already affecting the business bottom line of car care professionals like Keith Nelson, owner of Nelson Tire & Automotive in Siler City. The East Third Street auto shop fulfills a variety of service and repair needs, and automotive shops are included in the list of businesses deemed “essential” in North Carolina during this crisis.
No shelter-in-place orders have yet been enacted in Chatham County or statewide, but as other counties issue such orders and as more people telecommute or simply stay at home, demand for car care service has shrunk proportionately.
“There’s very little traffic,” observed Nelson. “I got out on [U.S.] 64 this morning and I didn’t see a lot of traffic. It’s usually very busy and just not there. The more traffic on the roads, it seems like the busier we are.”
So a reduction in traffic norms has “definitely had an affect on us,” said Nelson, who added that he plans to keep his business open during the duration. “We’ve slowed down a lot in the last five or six days compared to where we were even two weeks ago.”
Including himself and his wife, Nelson employs 10 full-time employees and one part-time staffer.
“We always stay busy, even with that much help,” he said, of the normal business climate.
Of the current business climate, Nelson noted, “I’m going to stay open as long as I can and everybody wants to work and there’s work to do.”
Greg Henson, owner of Downtown Automotive on South Chatham Avenue in Siler City, said his automotive repair business — normally steady and bustling with repair work usually scheduled four and five days out — has slowed considerably with growing concerns about COVID-19.
“It’s really slowed things down and it’s affected business a whole lot,” said Henson, who employs six people. “We may have to start laying people off, or having some employees alternate days. We’ve talked about that. This is having a big impact on everybody’s business.”
Some customers who had scheduled appointments for work have failed to show up for those appointments, said Henson, who speculated those no-shows may be occurring as more people grow concerned about being in public places.
As more cars likely sit in driveways unused for longer-than-normal periods of time, Henson advised motorists take at least one easy measure to help keep their cars operating: every few days, start it up and let it run to avoid draining the battery.
“If they’re going to sit for months, that’s one thing. But if your car is going to sit for four or five days, it’s a good idea to start it up and let it run for about 15 minutes to avoid draining the battery,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Randall Rigsbee can be reached at email@example.com.