12 days of COVID-19 in Chatham County, and counting...

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/20/20

It’s become nearly impossible to exist in America without hearing about the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. And it’s hit close to home in Chatham County as well.

Here’s a timeline …

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12 days of COVID-19 in Chatham County, and counting...

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It’s become nearly impossible to exist in America without hearing about the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. And it’s hit close to home in Chatham County as well.

Here’s a timeline of the significant events over a 12-day period from when the first case in Chatham was announced to this past Sunday.

Friday, March 6

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health confirmed a second N.C. resident — a man who lives in Chatham County — tested positive for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

According to a news release from the Chatham County government, the man traveled in late February to an area in Italy that is now the site of a COVID-19 outbreak. While there, he experienced two days of “mild, flu-like symptoms.” Eventually, the man’s fever “resolved” and symptoms improved, and he flew back to the U.S. the next day.

Soon afterward, North Carolina health officials were notified by the Georgia Department of Health that the man was a contact to a case in that state, meaning that he had been in proximity to someone in Georgia that contracted COVID-19. Chatham County Public Health Department personnel conducted a home visit and collected specimens. A test revealed a presumptive positive.

The health department has not revealed any further information on the man’s condition, citing privacy concerns.

Monday, March 9

At Monday’s Chatham County Board of Education meeting, the board voted to suspend all schools-sponsored travel outside of North Carolina for the remainder of the school year. The five new cases in Wake County were announced during the school board’s deliberations.

“When I think about our responsibility to the whole student body, I’m inclined to say that we don’t have out-of-state travel,” said board vice chair Jane Allen Wilson. “We haven’t dealt with this in our lifetime that we’ve had a pandemic with such potential to spread with such mild symptoms.”

County Public Health Director Layton Long told the school board that the departments have been in constant contact and will keep things updated.

“A lot of things are unknown but we try to reach reasonable conclusions as reasonable people should do,” Long said. “The critical component of all of this is that school systems are utilizing, and I urge the public to use, consistent factual information and get their information from reliable sources.”

Thursday, March 12

Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged the cancellation or postponement of all events with 100 people or more in attendance due to potential spread of COVID-19, a move that was followed by a tidal wave of changes, most of them taking place on Friday. But on Thursday, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced it would postpone the rest of the boys and girls state basketball championships “indefinitely” and suspend all other athletic events — including practices and games — starting at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 13 until Monday, April 6.

Additionally, Chatham County Schools cancelled all field trips and after-school activities, including sports, and will prohibit access by visitors and volunteers to schools “except those deemed by the school principals as essential.”

During an emergency meeting of the Chatham County Board of Education Thursday evening, CCS Superintendent Derrick Jordan said guidance from state government and health department officials helped the district make that decision.

“The guidance was basically around restricting non-essential travel, eliminating or reducing social interactions in the way of athletic events, concerts, etc.,” Jordan said. “It is currently still the recommendation from the state that schools not close preemptively. Staff will continue to meet with the appropriate local officials as we have been doing. ”

Friday, March 13

The governor’s announcement set off a flurry of cancellations and postponements, most of which were announced Friday, including the 3rd Annual Spring Ag Fest, sponsored by the Chatham County Cooperative Extension, which was scheduled for Saturday, March 28.

Additionally on Friday, Central Carolina Community College announced it was extending its spring break by a week in response to “the seriousness of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) global pandemic.” A press release from CCCC said the extension has been made to “help mitigate the spread of Coronavirus while also allowing CCCC faculty the necessary time to transition some coursework to an online format.”

Saturday, March 14

Cooper ordered the closure of all public schools in North Carolina for the next two weeks and banned gatherings of 100 or more by executive order. That made the decision for the county public school system, which had been debating further response in the days after its Thursday decision.

Sunday, March 15

In a news release Sunday morning, Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne encouraged residents with children to make sure they’re not left with people who may be at higher risk to be exposed to COVID-19.

“We understand the decision to close schools will present challenges for many Chatham County families,” LaMontagne said. “At the same time, we know that the new coronavirus is of particular concern for people age 65 and older as well as those with medical conditions like heart and lung disease, diabetes and weakened immune systems. To the extent possible, we urge residents to avoid leaving children with individuals who are high risk in order to limit potential exposure to the virus.

Additionally, Long stressed the importance of “social distancing” — staying six feet apart from others and avoiding crowded spaces.

“We continue to ask residents to take important steps to stay healthy: Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, cover your cough with your elbow, and stay home if you are sick except to seek medical care,” he said in the news release.

Tuesday, March 17

More cancellations and closures hit the news wire Tuesday morning, including a notification from the state government that all restaurants and bars were to cease dine-in service for the forseeable future. Take-out and delivery options were still allowed. Additionally, Chatham County Schools began serving breakfast and lunch free for those 18 and under and paid for adults at three elementary schools in the county.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.


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