Leaders: Reopen all of Sampson

Board cites ‘unprecedented financial hardship’ for citizens

By Chris Berendt [email protected]

				                                County attorney Joel Starling reads a resolution into the record.

County attorney Joel Starling reads a resolution into the record.

<p>Sampson County Commissioner Jerol Kivett voices his approval for a resolution that urges the governor to reopen all of the county’s businesses, not just some.</p>

Sampson County Commissioner Jerol Kivett voices his approval for a resolution that urges the governor to reopen all of the county’s businesses, not just some.

COVID-19 in Sampson: A timeline

*Total positive patients based on announcements made by the County of Sampson and the Sampson County Health Department.

March 16 — first case

April 3 — second case

April 5 — third case

April 6 — 5 cases

April 8 — 9 cases

April 9 — 10 cases

April 13 — 13 cases

April 14 — 14 cases

April 15 — 17 cases

April 16 — 18 cases

April 17 — 19 cases

April 20 — 21 cases

April 21 — 24 cases

April 22 — 27 cases

April 23 — 35 cases

April 24 — 36 cases

April 27 — 45 cases

April 28 — 49 cases

April 29 — 63 cases

April 30 — 74 cases

May 1 — 81 cases

May 4 — 96 cases

May 5 — 100 cases

May 6 — 120 cases

May 7 — 129 cases

May 8 — 140 cases

May 11 — 171 cases

May 12 — 177 cases

May 13 — 193 cases

May 14 — 211 cases

May 15 — 224 cases

May 18 — 257 cases

May 19 — 267 cases

May 20 — 302 cases

May 21 — 314 cases

“It allows restaurants and salons to open, but left many with their doors still closed. This, basically, in my opinion, is picking winners and losers. That’s not the way we do it in America.”

— Jerol Kivett, Sampson County commissioner, on Phase 2

The Sampson County Board of Commissioners are unanimously urging Gov. Roy Cooper to allow all of Sampson County’s businesses to reopen, a move made just moments after Cooper announced the second phase of a reopening plan for North Carolina that clears the way for some to open their doors, while others will remain dark.

“While mindful of the precautions that citizens should and will continue to take to guard against the spread of COVID-19, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners finds that it is time that the citizens of Sampson County be allowed to resume the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor and the pursuit of happiness,” states a portion of the resolution, adopted in a unanimous 5-0 vote during a Wednesday evening special session.

The Board of Commissioners met Wednesday via video conference due to the current COVID-19 State of Emergency. The purpose of the special meeting was to discuss the economic impact of the governor’s current statewide executive order on local businesses. It was broadcast live via Facebook Live, with more than 100 people watching at its peak.

The county meeting was first announced last week, prior to Cooper’s Phase 2 announcement.

The Board of Commissioners resolution mentions Cooper’s executive orders, which declared a state of emergency and closed restaurants for dine-in and on-premises consumption; barber shops, beauty salons, gyms, and movie theaters from operating; and prohibited the assembly of more than 10 citizens.

That has meant a hit to the economy, especially as the weeks have drawn on, local leaders said.

“The state-mandated closure of many of Sampson County’s local businesses has led to unprecedented financial hardship for many of Sampson County’s residents in the form of loss of revenue, unemployment, and reduction in income,” the county resolution stated. “Prolonging the restrictions currently placed on Sampson County’s local businesses any further has the potential to create an economic disaster that will reverberate for many years to come. Our state’s constitution recognizes the right of all North Carolinians to life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The county board, in its resolution, notes that public health officials have worked to educate members of the public on the precautions they should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the board trusts those same officials will continue to provide the state’s businesses with recommended guidelines and best practices that businesses should follow to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

According to data provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, there has been a significant increase in the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity, the board stated. Cooper said as much on Wednesday, noting that North Carolina has more than doubled the daily testing rate, with more than 8,000 tests completed daily on average.

There are more than 300 testing sites across the state, and both Sampson and Duplin held drive-thru testing sites in the recent days, with nearly 500 people tested for COVID-19 in Sampson on Saturday alone.

A day after the Sampson County Health Department reported a single-day record for new cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) with 35, the county said there were a dozen more positive cases on Thursday — bringing the total to 314 who have tested positive.

The totals are in part bolstered by the drive-thru testing event this past weekend in which health officials administered nearly 500 COVID-19 tests to the general public. Health officials said the new numbers reflect the mass testing done, but have not furnished specific results — positive vs negative tests — as it relates to Saturday’s testing event.

Sampson still has 544 COVID-19 tests pending, so those results — negative or positive — are anticipated to continue coming in.

As of Thursday, there had been 1,317 tests for the virus conducted in Sampson, with 459 negatives to go with the 314 positive tests. Of those positive patients, 113 are listed as recovered, according to county officials. Sampson’s lone death attributed to COVID-19 was a patient who was between 50 and 55 years of age with underlying medical conditions.

North Carolina had 20,860 confirmed cases, 716 deaths and 578 hospitalizations covering all 100 counties as of Thursday, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). There were 290,645 tests for COVID-19 completed as of Thursday.

“While the Sampson County Board of Commissioners fully recognizes the public health risk posed by COVID-19, the board also recognizes that its statutory duty to promote the health, safety, and welfare of Sampson County’s citizens extends to all facets of those citizens’ lives, including their financial welfare,” the resolution read. “The Sampson County Board of Commissioners finds that state and local public health officials have, through their tireless efforts, equipped the citizenry with the tools that they need to safely reopen and resume everyday activities.”

Jerol Kivett, whose own Clinton-based furniture manufacturing company Kivett’s Inc. had an employee test positive for COVID-19, said businesses are struggling, and picking and choosing which ones can stay open isn’t right.

“Undoubtedly, we are living in unprecedented times, and every death due to COVID-19 is one too many; every job lost due to COVID-19 is one too many; every banruptcy is one too many; every business that permanently closes its doors to coronavirus is one too many. With that said, almost everything can have unintended consequences and, today, that’s what we’re seeing with businesses.”

He noted Cooper’s announcement, which preceded Wednesday’s meeting by about an hour. That Phase 2 announcement cleared the way for some businesses to open, Kivett noted, but others were not as fortunate, with Phase 2 anticipated to extend until the end of June.

“It allows restaurants and salons to open, but left many with their doors still closed,” Kivett said of Cooper’s ‘Safer At Home’ Phase 2. “This, basically, in my opinion, is picking winners and losers. That’s not the way we do it in America. And this puts our law enforcement in a precarious position … they’re having to make criminals out of good citizens trying to enforce issues here that we’ve never had to face before.”

The resolution concluded: “The Sampson County Board of Commissioners respectfully requests that, effective immediately, Governor Roy Cooper allow all of Sampson County’s businesses to reopen, subject to any reasonable guidelines and best practices recommended by state and local public health officials.”

Kivett made a motion to adopt the resolution, seconded by Vice chair Sue Lee. The vote was unanimous 5-0, with Chairman Clark Wooten concurring, along with Commissioners Thaddeus Godwin and Harry Parker.

Phase 2 starts today

Cooper’s “Safer At Home” Phase 2 will commence later today, at 5 p.m. Friday, May 22. It will run through at least Friday, June 26.

“This next phase can help boost our economy,” said Cooper. “But we can only help our economy when people have confidence in their own safety, which is why it’s important to ease restrictions carefully and use data in deciding when to do it.”

On Wednesday, he cited a combination of trends and indicators that “remain stable overall,” making the second phase a possibility.

“Phase 2 is another careful step forward,” Cooper stated. “Since we announced Phase 1, the state’s overall key indicators remain stable. However, the increases in COVID-19 cases signal a need to take a more modest step forward in Phase 2 than originally envisioned.”

Some businesses and places will remain closed in Phase 2 including: bars; night clubs; gyms and indoor fitness facilities; indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys; and public playgrounds.

The mass gathering limits in Phase 2 will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors. This applies to event venues; conference centers; stadiums and sports arenas; amphitheaters; and groups at parks or beaches.

Under the governor’s order, certain businesses will be open at limited capacity with other requirements. Restaurants can re-open for dine-in customers at mostly a 50% capacity, with distancing and cleaning requirements. Personal care businesses like salons and barbers can also re-open at 50% capacity. These businesses will have face covering and cleaning requirements while also reducing the number of people in the waiting areas.

Swimming pools will be able to open at 50% capacity, and overnight and day camps can open with safety rules. Childcare facilities, day camps and overnight camps will be open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements.

Retail businesses allowed to open in Phase 1 at 50% capacity will continue at that level.

In Safer At Home Phase 2, the three Ws — wash your hands frequently, wait 6 feet apart from other people and wear a face covering — are even more important, governor noted.

“The face covering is more about protecting other people from your germs in case you have the virus and just don’t know it yet,” Cooper said. “Not every restaurant and salon will be able to open Friday evening and some may choose not to open at all. Show them the courtesy of patience as they weigh how best to serve their customers and stay safe. We owe that to them.”

Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.