The rise of coronavirus cases in North Carolina, and mitigation efforts to slow its spread, are affecting businesses and individuals across the state.
In Carrboro and Chapel Hill, those in the service industry are trying to cope with the drastic slump in business and many people are making changes to protect themselves and others.
“Are you worried about family in China?”
“New York. I have family in New York, that’s bad over there. They are all safe in China … China is pretty under control right now.”
For Kevin Wang, the owner of Jade Palace restaurant in Carrboro, his thoughts are no longer focused on his family in China. They are over the worst of it, he explains. Now he is watching New York and the recent rise in reported cases of COVID-19. On March 16, the statewide total for COVID-19 cases in New York had reached more than 950, with confirmed community transmission, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wang is doing his best to keep his business going and his employees paid, but he is watching the days until he can no longer sustain employee hours.
The pandemic has “hurt our business a lot,” says Wang. “We’ve been slow for the last week, last two weeks already. We try to keep all the employees here,” referencing the employees gathered around a table at the back of the customerless restaurant. “We’ll see how it goes in the next two weeks.”
In downtown Carrboro, Cat’s Cradle concert hall is a backbone of the arts community. A sign on the front door alerts customers of upcoming shows that are cancelled or postponed as part of the effort to enforce social distancing. On March 14, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order that bans gatherings of more than 100 people.
“A few people have looked at me like I had a couple heads, and a gentleman earlier straight up refused … he was not gonna wash his hands.”
Bleach-toting bar lead Emma Flanagan is enforcing strict hygiene rules at Vimala's Curryblossom Café in Chapel Hill. Customers are directed to wash hands as soon as they enter the restaurant and are not allowed to handle menus or dine inside until they do so. Flanagan says she’s been argued with over the rule, but most customers understand.
Diana Fuentes, the owner of Salon de Belleza Diana in Chapel Hill, brushes dye along the eyebrows of customer Leticia Lopez. She explains in Spanish that she is “trying to be here quite early” to receive more clients and to ensure that clients don’t come and go without being served.
On March 14, Weaver Street Market, a popular community gathering place and grocery store in Carrboro, was half-empty or half-full depending on your perspective. On March 12, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said "walking through the aisles of a grocery store" is considered low risk, per guidance the department received from the CDC. Cohen also reminded North Carolinians that “social distancing means staying approximately six feet away” from others when possible.
Standing by his front porch, Kevin Jones says he’s had little luck finding toilet paper and other essentials at nearby stores. He planned on heading to the Buckhorn Flea Market in Mebane where “regular people like us” can buy supplies at prices he didn’t think would be too marked-up.
Coronavirus-inspired artwork outside of This & That Gift Gallery in Carrboro announces sanitation efforts by employees. Local artist and shop employee John Knox says they are spraying disinfectant on “most surfaces” every hour, with special attention to high-touch surfaces like door handles and the cash area.
Knox also shaped what he calls “touchy sticks” out of polymer clay and chopsticks. The little finger-shaped necklace adorns employees as a reminder to keep fingers away from faces.
“I think alcohol helps,” says Joe Centeno as he mans the bar at Carrboro Beverage Company on Main Street. He’s been helping the trickle of clients between rounds of cleaning store surfaces. “We’re all doing our best to deal with this.”
Clinton Hicks waits at a Carrboro bus stop for his ride back home to Durham. His mother is a retired nurse and he explains that it’s important to stay calm in the face of the virus.
“It’s an epidemic, but the thing about it is, I’m not going to panic. Whatever happens is going to happen,” says Hicks. “I’m trusting the medical system, but I’m trusting the Lord over all.”