Time to practice "social distancing"

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Effects of coronavirus pandemic taking over Graham County

  • Those in need of toilet paper Tuesday morning would have walked into Robbinsville’s Ingles and found an all-too-familiar site; empty shelves, as customers do their best to stockpile supplies in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Hope Riddle/lineads@grahamstar.com
    Those in need of toilet paper Tuesday morning would have walked into Robbinsville’s Ingles and found an all-too-familiar site; empty shelves, as customers do their best to stockpile supplies in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Hope Riddle/lineads@grahamstar.com
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It’s here … sort of.

Though no confirmed cases have been recorded in Graham County – a local man tested negative last week – the much-maligned, heavily discussed coronavirus has forced the hands of lawmakers and officials at the national, state and local levels.

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak – which began in China in December and was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier this month – schools statewide were cancelled for two weeks by Gov. Roy Cooper as part of an executive order issued Saturday.

Gatherings of more than 100 people were also banned as a result of the executive order. The N.C. High School Athletic Association announced Thursday that all state championship basketball games and spring sports have been postponed until at least Monday, April 6.

The protocols put in place by officials have caused cancellations and postponements across Graham County, including:

* All county schools are closed until at least Monday, March 30. The school system announced Monday that breakfast and lunch will be served to students – via pickup only – from 8-9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. each day. Additionally, the school system is working on methods of delivering curriculum to students at home. 

* Government buildings are closed to the immediate public indefinitely, but County Manager Becky Garland confirmed to The Graham Star on Monday that the public will be allowed in on a case-by-case basis, as the offices are working on the principle of “social distancing.” The public is encouraged to visit grahamcounty.org for a list of phone numbers and email addresses to take care of any government business that may arise.

* All essential services – the Graham County Health Department, Department of Social Services, Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Service operations – will remain in service, though you are asked to call ahead before traveling to those locations.

* The limit on public gatherings has forced the cancellation of several scheduled meetings and events across the next few weeks, including the Graham Cancer Support Group, Town of Lake Santeetlah and GREAT meetings, as well as a planned Pastor Appreciation Breakfast.

* The Graham County Transit Authority has indefinitely suspended all non-medical trips outside of the county. The office itself is closed to the public, but transportation to medical appointments, employment and in-county shopping is available on a limited basis. Call 479-4129 for details.

* Monica Holley with NCWorks will only be operating out of Murphy until further notice. Call 828-837-7407 with questions.

* Per an executive order issued by Cooper on Tuesday afternoon, all dine-in restaurants were restricted to take-out or drive-thru services only.

* The Graham County Public Library is closed until at least Tuesday, March 31.

* The Graham County Senior Center is closed indefinitely. Those that need to access the Meals on Wheels program can call 479-7977 after 8 a.m. each day.

* Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos announced a two-week closure Monday afternoon, which began at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Employees will continue to get paid during the absence of operation.

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To help treat a possible outbreak, the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services announced March 12 that it has temporarily lifted a regulation that requires hospitals to request state permission to add more than 10 percent of their bed capacity.

A release issued by the Graham County Department of Public Health on Friday advised everyone on tips to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus:

* Wash hands with soap and water for 20-plus seconds each time.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

* Stay home from work or school if you are sick.

* Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

* Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

* Throw away tissues after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

* Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

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Ingles in Robbinsville fell victim to the panic caused by the outbreak, as store employees have struggled to keep much-vaunted items as toilet paper and hand sanitizer in-stock. Monday night, the store was low on meat and had no potatoes.

Beginning Tuesday morning, Dollar General’s corporate office announced that the store would limit its first hour of operation to senior citizens only, which would allow the more at-risk age group to buy their supplies without fear of finding empty shelves.

The closest confirmed case in North Carolina – from Macon County – was announced Monday. 

At press time, North Carolina had only 33 confirmed cases and no one in the state had passed away from the flu-like illness.