For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began weeks ago, residents at The Citadel of Elizabeth City were finally allowed to venture outside Wednesday.
Staff at the long-term care facility couldn’t have picked a nicer day for the occasion: Wednesday’s high temperature reached the mid-70s, and except for the occasional cloud, the sky was blue and sunny.
To celebrate, The Citadel of Elizabeth City hosted a parade for about 25 residents, who were seated outside near the facility’s front entrance. The sun beat down on their smiling faces and everyone seemed to be absorbing the sunlight.
“This is our Sunshine Day and Parade,” said Brittany Cooper, The Citadel of Elizabeth City’s executive director. “We’re celebrating.”
The facility’s residents have not been allowed outside since March to protect them from contracting COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus. People ages 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of dangerous complications if infected with the virus.
“This is the first time they’ve been out in the front like this in two months,” Cooper said, adding that residents seemed to be enjoying themselves.
As of Wednesday there have been no cases of COVID-19 at The Citadel, Cooper said.
“And we’re trying to keep it that way,” she added.
The Citadel’s residents and staff, all whom were wearing facemasks, lined the front sidewalk from one end of the facility to the other. A DJ played music, while staff members danced and others mingled with residents.
Yellow caution tape divided the group from the parking lot, where one after another dozens of vehicles, some sporting balloons, and others filled with family members waving signs to their loved ones, drove through at a snail’s pace starting at 1 p.m.
Other participants in The Citadel parade included the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office, the Elizabeth City fire and police departments, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services, B&M Contractors Inc., and more.
Cooper explained that families are still unable to visit their loved ones at The Citadel in person. Families who wish to visit must call ahead so arrangements can be made to speak to their loved ones through a glass window. Or, the care facility has tablets that families can use to speak to loved ones through Facetime or another app, she said.
Brad and Susan Buckner of Elizabeth City said while the restrictions on visitations are tough, they support the steps The Citadel has implemented.
“It’s for the better,” said Brad, whose mother, Sylvia Haney, has been a resident at The Citadel since Feb. 7.
“We wholeheartedly agree,” Susan said, of The Citadel’s preventative measures. “We are very thankful they have taken the precautions to keep the staff and patients safe.”
The Buckners joined the parade and made a couple of passes in their vehicle past The Citadel, taking advantage of the opportunity to see Sylvia, who was seated out front in a wheelchair. While they weren’t able to stop and visit, Susan managed to step out of their vehicle just long enough to wave and say goodbye to Sylvia.
“It’s been a long journey,” Susan said, of the experience since the pandemic began.
The last time she and her husband were able to visit Sylvia in person was just days before Gov. Roy Cooper announced his first round of restrictions on March 14 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Susan said they’ve been speaking to Sylvia through a glass window since then. Her mother-in-law has difficulty hearing, so it’s easier for her and Brad to write notes and hold up the notebook for Sylvia to read, she said.
“We hold this up to the window like this so she can read it,” said Susan, displaying the notebook they use. The pages were filled with messages written in blue ink.
Sylvia reads the note and responds, trying her best to speak loud enough through the glass.
Cooper said in addition to celebrating The Citadel’s residents, Wednesday’s event also recognized National Nursing Home Week, which began Sunday and ends Saturday. Staff also recently honored National Nurses Week, which ran May 6-12.
CAMDEN — Camden County plans to build an access road next to its Commerce Park in anticipation of a new business buying a tract there.
The Camden Board of Commissioners approved a contract for the access road last week to accommodate the prospective business.
County officials didn’t identify the business but described it as a Wilson-based transportation company seeking an additional location near the Port of Virginia.
The board voted unanimously to award the contract for the access road to Whitehurst Sand Co., the low bidder at $103,626.
RPC Contracting and Barnhill Contracting also submitted bids for the work.
The county requested bids for the access road project because the prospective business would need to cross two large ditches in order to access the site it’s proposing to buy.
Large trucks needs to be able to use the access road, according to County Manager Ken Bowman.
According to Camden officials, the county has received serious interest from a business prospect wishing to buy a couple of acres of county-owned property — part of an unused spray field — just south of the Commerce Park in the South Mills area.
In order to accommodate the prospect’s needs the county is responsible for providing access from the Commerce Park across two large ditches and into the property, according to county officials.
The county had construction plans prepared and requested bids to install culverts and construct 160 feet of access road.
Press releases from the Elizabeth City Police Department are about to get shorter.
Currently, department press releases about felony criminal arrests include not only a suspect’s current charges but also their previous convictions. The press releases go not just to area media outlets, including The Daily Advance, but are also posted on the city police department’s Facebook page.
Councilor Darius Horton told fellow councilors Monday, however, that he objects to the city providing that information to media outlets of its own accord and also posting it on its social media platforms.
He asked that a crime suspect’s prior criminal record only be released when it’s specifically requested by a media organization or individual as required by state law.
Horton said he doesn’t oppose police issuing press releases on crime suspects charged with a felony that detail what those charges are. But he said a past conviction, including some that are several decades old, is not relevant to the current charges against a crime suspect — and therefore shouldn’t be summarily released by the city.
Horton noted that city police didn’t always issue press releases that included a crime suspect’s previous criminal history.
“Was it a public record under the old policy when we didn’t do it? Yes, it was a public record but we as a city did not put that in there,” he said. “We as the city of Elizabeth City have no business putting out on our letterhead a person’s past. It’s not our job to tell people that back in 1988 somebody was charged with jaywalking. That has nothing to do with anything. If the paper wants to print that, that’s fine.”
City Manager Rich Olson and Chief of Police Eddie Buffaloe agreed to stop the practice of providing a crime suspect’s prior criminal record in press releases issued by the police department. Both said the city will only provide that information when it is specifically requested. Under state statute, a person’s crime history is a public record available to any person or entity who requests it.
“City staff will not include that information on the press releases or on our Facebook page,” Olson said.
Olson said the city issues press releases on felony arrests as a way to keep citizens informed “on what is going on.”
“These criminal offenses are always felonies,” Olson said. “Those crimes that the police department deems to be in the public interest are the ones that are usually released. Those are the ones where there is buzz on the street. ‘Why were their police cars at the Taco Bell on a given night,’ or something like that.”
Councilor Chris Ruffieux said including a subject’s prior criminal record is important information for city residents to know.
“The residents of Elizabeth City, I know a lot of people want to see this information and find it useful,” Ruffieux said.
At one point during the lengthy debate, Olson said he believed City Council was attempting to dictate administrative operation of the city — something he said is barred by state law.
“We will address it the way we want to,” Olson told councilors. “I think a while ago we crossed the line between the policy decision and the administrative decision.”
To move the issue forward, Olson said he would have the police department remove information about previous convictions from its future press releases.
“It would just be better if we handled it administratively instead of having council dictate to city staff something we have the authority to do,’’ he said.
Editor’s note: In keeping with the Elizabeth City Police Department’s new policy, The Daily Advance plans to request information about crime suspects’ previous criminal convictions from the department.
Pasquotank County officials plan to send a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper expressing appreciation for his leadership during the COVID-19 health crisis but also seeking local control over how quickly businesses are reopened.
Commissioners agreed to send the letter Monday after failing to support a resolution asking Cooper to balance public health concerns against concerns his stay-at-home order is hurting the local economy.
County Manager Sparty Hammett told commissioners he would draft the letter based on their input and bring it back to the board at its next meeting.
Hammett presented commissioners with a copy of the resolution Monday, describing it as “more middle of the road” and less political than others adopted by county boards elsewhere in the state.
Commissioner Cecil Perry asked where the resolution originated.
Board Chairman Jeff Dixon said it was drafted locally but based on a resolution put forward by Henderson County. Dixon said various counties have far-left, far-right and middle-of-the-road resolutions, but Pasquotank staff considered Henderson’s to be more middle of the road.
“It doesn’t play anybody’s political home court,” Dixon said.
But Perry said he believed the resolution was designed to object to the measures Gov. Cooper has taken during the COVID-19 crisis.
Dixon responded that he didn’t think the resolution objected to what the governor has done, and he didn’t think its language was meant to be controversial.
Repeatedly describing the resolution as “middle of the road,” Dixon said a primary concern is that nearby Virginia might be opening a bit quicker and that Pasquotank could lose business to its neighboring state.
“We’re trying to stay even with Virginia,” Dixon said.
Commissioner Charles Jordan said he questioned why the board needed to adopt a resolution. The economy is important but people and their safety are more important, he said.
Jordan told the board he had just lost his brother, who had contracted COVID-19.
“That’s why I am really concerned with us easing up the precautions that we are taking too quickly,” Jordan said. “I think we need to be patient and not move too fast.”
Jordan said his brother Howard died last week in the Philadelphia area. He said he wanted to be cautious about reopening Pasquotank’s economy because he thought Philadelphia officials had reopened their economy too quickly.
Commissioner Frankie Meads, however, said he supported the resolution, including its assertion that “the current Governor’s Executive Order does not achieve the balance between protecting public health and preserving the local economy.”
It was that particular clause that troubled Commissioner Barry Overman, who contended it needed to be removed if the resolution were to move forward.
Overman said the COVID-19 crisis is particularly real for people like Jordan who have lost loved ones to the disease and to people who have lost jobs or business because of the economic impact.
“I’m not sure where the happy medium is,” he said, adding there are arguments on both sides of the reopening debate.
“It’s just a tough place for us to be,” Overman said.
Overman said the one message he would like to send to the governor is that counties might have their own ideas and “we’re out here too.”
Meads said every local community is different and needs to be able to make its own decisions.
“The shoe does not fit every county the same way,” Meads said. “Everybody has got a different-size foot.”
Meads also claimed that some of Cooper’s actions violate the U.S. Constitution, and that commissioners should remember they took an oath to support the constitution.
Asked Tuesday about his comments, Meads said his understanding of the Constitution is that it is unlawful for government to prohibit people from assembling or attending church.
“Congress or anybody else can’t make a law to keep you from enjoying your freedom,” Meads said.
Meads apparently was referring to the 10-person limit on attendance at indoor worship services under Phase One of Cooper’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions. The plan took effect last Friday.
Commissioner Sean Lavin also expressed support for the resolution, noting that every other emergency is managed at the local level.
“That’s the point of this resolution,” he said.
Lavin noted the local outbreaks of COVID-19 in Pasquotank have been at the state prison and at a nursing home.
The N.C. Department of Public Safety reported 19 inmates had contracted COVID-19 at Pasquotank Correctional Institution last month. On Tuesday, DPS announced that all 19 have recovered from the highly contagious respiratory disease.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported this week that Elizabeth City Health & Rehabilitation, an Elizabeth City nursing home, has reported 47 cases of COVID-19, including 13 staff members and 34 residents. Four of the nursing home’s residents have also died of complications from the disease.
Commissioner Lloyd Griffin said he had been hearing from people who are unable to work because of the governor’s order. He said the resolution would be a way to let the public know commissioners hear their concerns. He also said the governor could benefit from hearing from the different counties.
As for reopening the economy, Griffin said he wants to move forward cautiously.
Jordan suggested that instead of adopting the resolution the board send a letter to Cooper expressing support for his actions but also noting the local concerns about the economy.
Meads, however, made a motion to adopt the resolution as presented. The motion failed, with only Meads and Lavin voting for it.
Overman then made a motion that Hammett draft a letter to the governor which mentioned the points commissioners had made about balancing economic concerns. That motion passed unanimously.
Meads commented that he should have voted against Overman’s motion but realized it was going to pass regardless of what he did.
City Council similarly decided not to adopt the resolution Monday, agreeing instead to draft a resolution supporting Cooper’s plan for reopening the state’s economy in three phases over the coming weeks.