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ECSU: 4 COVID cases but no plans for remote classes

Elizabeth City State University has four confirmed cases of COVID-19 on its campus, but unlike the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has no current plans to send students home and start online classes.

ECSU had that message for students on Tuesday, a day after officials at UNC-CH elected to switch to remote learning because of large outbreaks of COVID-19 over the past week.

UNC-CH reported 130 infections among students and five among employees, adding that clusters of the highly contagious respiratory disease were found in dorms, a fraternity house and other student housing.

Responding to UNC-CH officials’ decision, Gary L. Brown, ECSU vice chancellor of student affairs, penned a letter to students on Tuesday, advising them of the four COVID-19 cases but also telling them there are no plans to close the campus and start remote classes.

“Please receive this communication as a definitive statement that Elizabeth City State University is not considering any similar decisions for our campus community at this time,” he said.

Brown said the campus is following the protocols it established for quarantining students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. According to those rules, students who have tested positive for the coronavirus or been exposed to someone with the virus, are required to immediately self-quarantine and notify the c a m p u s ’ s t u d e n t health center. Any employee who has tested positive, shown symptoms of the disease or been exposed to someone with the virus, is also required to self-quarantine and report their status to the university’s human resources office.

According to ECSU’s COVID reporting page, two students and two staff members have tested positive for the virus.

Robert Kelly-Goss, a university spokesman, said Tuesday he wasn’t sure if the students who’ve contracted the virus were still on the campus. Under the campus’s protocols, students may quarantine in their own room. There also are rooms set up in each dorm to house students who test positive, he said. Kelly-Goss wasn’t sure where the students who’ve tested positive are being quarantined. The two employees are quarantining at home, he said.

In his letter to students, Brown noted that many students have “expressed joy” about being able to return to campus for in-person classes and to engage with other students in residence halls. But he warned that ECSU’s ability to continue to offer that kind of campus experience “is fully predicated on how serious we approach our responsibility to practicing safe behaviors.”

Brown said while he realizes the news about the clusters of COVID-19 at UNC-CH “raises some concern” for some students at ECSU, he urged students to be both patient and flexible. He also urged them to continue to follow safety procedures that include proper hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing.

“Be courageous in holding each other accountable for adhering to the health and wellness guidelines,” he said. “Be resilient in recognizing that things shift and change in our everyday climate.”

According to safety precautions ECSU has implemented, all students, staff, faculty and visitors are required wear to masks while on the campus. The only two exceptions are for employees when they are in their private offices, and students when they’re in their residence hall room. In addition, no visitors or guests are allowed in residence halls, and everyone is required to practice social distancing in all common campus areas like the bookstore.

Kelly-Goss said ECSU officials have no threshold for COVID-19 cases when deciding to consider measures similar to those at UNC-CH.

“But we are monitoring the situation very closely,” he said.


Only Raining Threes

Taking advantage of an afternoon without thunderstorms, brothers Jayee (left) and Derondrik Hollis shoot hoops at the courts at Dog Corner Park in Elizabeth City, Tuesday afternoon. Thunderstorms are forecast again for later today.

Albemarle Hopeline wins United Way award

The Albemarle United Way kicked off its annual Spirit Week Tuesday by presenting Albemarle Hopeline with its Spirit of Community Award.

Because of COVID-19, the United Way is celebrating this year’s Spirit Week virtually via Facebook Live instead of having an awards luncheon.

Split up over three days, the United Way will present its Spirit of Giving Award today and its Partner of the Year Award on Thursday. The United Way will also announce its community investment checks on Thursday.

Albemarle Hopeline is a private and nonprofit support services agency that provides direct and preventive services to victims of family violence, sexual assault, and teen dating violence in Pasquotank, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Perquimans and Gates counties.

The Spirit of Community Award is given to United Way partner agencies that show excellence in leadership, community compassion and overall community service, said Albemarle United Way Board of Directors member and Vidant marketing manager Kelly Herr. Albemarle United Way has 24 partner agencies.

“This organization has been a beacon of hope for some of the most vulnerable in our community since 1981,” Herr said.

Albemarle Hopeline Executive Director Courtney Cottrell said the coronavirus pandemic has been an “especially trying time” for anyone that is experiencing, or has experienced, interpersonal violence. Cottrell also said Hopeline has adapted to the pandemic by offering more virtual support services.

“We have been doing this for just shy of 40 years, I don’t think we ever thought we would see months like we have seen these last few months during the pandemic,” Cottrell said. “Hopeline has been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to continue to provide crisis response, emergency shelter and support services to those who need it. We have to remember that home is not a safe place for everyone.’’

Also during the Facebook Live event, the United Way’s Monica Oakes discussed the impact the agency’s Community Care Collaborative has had on the community. Oakes is the CCC’s manager.

The CCC started last October and gives assistance to people facing a temporary emergency crisis with the goal of closing gaps among local resources to provide support to people in Pasquotank, Camden and Perquimans counties.

The CCC is primarily funded by local churches but it also receives financial help from local businesses and individuals.

“When we opened our doors, we had the vision and goal of reaching those in need in our community,” Oakes said. “We can connect them with financial resources as well as other resources that are available to them within the community.”

Oakes said CCC recently helped a single mother who had lost her job.

“We were able to help pay her rent for a month, and we partnered with another agency, Catholic Charities, and helped her get back on her feet,” Oakes said. “She secured a job and that is what we hope for. We want them to reach sustainability.”

Buffaloe to start Saturday as interim city manager

Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe will become Elizabeth City’s interim city manager Saturday while also continuing to lead the city’s police force.

City Council agreed Monday to increase Buffaloe’s pay to $2,925 a week, which is an increase of approximately $800 a week from his current salary as police chief. Buffaloe will continue as interim manager and police chief until a new city manager is hired.

Buffaloe will be taking over for City Manager Rich Olson, who announced in June his plan to resign on Aug. 22. Olson, who has served as city manager for 17 years, is leaving to become the new town administrator for Argyle, Texas. Olson’s last day is Saturday.

Council approved Buffaloe’s salary as interim city manager on a 7-1 vote. Councilors Chris Ruffieux, Kem Spence, Billy Caudle, Darius Horton, Jeannie Young, Michael Brooks and Johnnie Walton, council’s mayor pro, voted yes. Councilor Gabriel Adkins cast the lone no vote.

Buffaloe said he did not seek the interim city manager’s position. But last week after a closed session, City Council voted 4-3 to give him the job. At the time, Buffaloe was on vacation.

Voting to name Buffaloe interim city manager last week were Caudle, Ruffieux, Brooks and Walton. Opposing the motion were Horton, Spence and Adkins.

“It was the City Council’s will,” Buffaloe said of the decision.

City Council is in the early stages of finding Olson’s successor but hopes to hire a new city manager around Nov. 1.

Buffaloe, who said he is not applying for the city manager’s job, would then return to the police department as chief, and his annual salary of $108,667.

“The plan I know about today is that he will go back to being the city police chief once we have a new city manager in place,” Ruffieux said.

The city does not plan to name an interim chief of police but Buffaloe said that could change if he or City Council see a need for it.

“At this point, I will still be overseeing the police department as well as the other departments,” Buffaloe said. “Right now, we are going to leave it where we are.”

Buffaloe, who has been the city’s police chief for almost eight years, is very familiar with city operations and said business will continue as usual. That includes finding a new Parks and Recreation director and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“I want to be here as a voice for the citizens and a voice for the employees,” Buffaloe said. “I want to be the liaison between the council and the city and the organization.’’

ALE warns VFW to cease alcohol sales at post

A weekend visit from a state Alcohol Law Enforcement agent resulted in Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060 having to cease sales of alcohol.

The visit was part of compliance measures related to the state’s effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Scott Seddon, commanding officer of VFW Post 6060, said an ALE agent visited the post around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The post was hosting a spaghetti dinner and was scheduled to close at 6 p.m. The agent explained that because the state defines the post as a bar it could not sell alcohol under current COVID-19 restrictions, Seddon said.

Those restrictions are set in Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order No. 141, which was issued in May and has been extended twice. The current extension is set to expire at 5 p.m. on Sept. 11.

The VFW facility includes a bar, plus a kitchen and a banquet room where guests can eat. Since the state began imposing COVID-19 restrictions in March, the VFW has relied on the sale of meals from its kitchen to generate revenue. In the early months, the VFW was closed except to customers ordering take-out meals.

On Tuesday, Seddon expressed surprise by the agent’s visit. He said back in June he called an ALE official in Raleigh to inquire about selling alcohol on site to guests eating meals. After all, under Executive Order 141 restaurants are allowed to serve on-premise alcohol to customers.

Seddon said the ALE official told him that as long as the VFW did not play music, host live bands, allow guests to play darts or billiards, and took other measures to tamp down its bar atmosphere, it could serve guests alcohol with their meals.

Seddon said after that conversation he felt assured he could reopen as business as usual, as long as the post adhered to certain restrictions, which also included social distancing and reduced occupancy. He explained that to the ALE agent, who left after issuing a verbal warning, Seddon said.

The VFW, which is located at 1433 N. Road Street north of town, is still open for meals.

Since the pandemic, the VFW has held several outdoor events to help raise money to keep the post open. In May, members held a fish fry that drew guests from as far away as the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, and in July it held a grilled chicken dinner.

This Saturday the VFW is hosting a pig pickin’ lunch from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Seddon said.

The post is doing OK financially and will be able to make it till Sept. 11, Seddon said.

In the days leading up to the deadline, Cooper is expected to announce whether he will extend Phase 2 again or move the state to Phase 3 of his reopening plan.