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COVID-19 outbreak at EC nursing home is over

The COVID-19 outbreak at an Elizabeth City nursing home that included more than 70 positive cases and 14 deaths is officially over, officials said Wednesday.

Christy Saunders, Pasquotank-Camden emergency management coordinator, said in her weekly update that the outbreak at Elizabeth City Health & Rehabilitation is considered resolved. A spokeswoman for Albemarle Regional Health Services later confirmed Saunders’ report.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services considers an outbreak of COVID-19 at facilities like nursing homes and prisons to be over when there is no evidence of continued transmission of the disease. Typically that’s 28 days after the latest onset of COVID-19 in a symptomatic person or the last specimen collection from an asymptomatic person, whichever is later.

During the outbreak at ECHR, which was first reported on May 3, a total of 50 residents and 21 staff members contracted the novel coronavirus, the highly contagious virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. Fourteen residents of the nursing home died from complications associated with the disease.

Saunders’ report indicated that 56 COVID-19 cases at ECHR have recovered from the disease, noting the number includes “residents previously admitted from other facilities.” The ARHS spokeswoman said, however, that the agency is not “aware of any active cases” of COVID-19 currently at the nursing home.

The first reported COVID-19 related death at ECHR was reported May 7. The nursing home’s last reported death from the virus was reported June 15.

Jill Strickland, administrator at EC Health and Rehabilitation, did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

The 14 COVID-19-related deaths at ECHR are among the 17 total reported in Pasquotank County from the disease. No new virus-related deaths were reported in ARHS’ eight-county district on Wednesday.

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 655 in the region on Wednesday, as Pasquotank, Camden, Bertie and Hertford counties reported new cases.

Pasquotank’s case count rose to 210, only 39 of which are active. Camden’s case count rose to 29, with 12 active cases. Bertie’s case count rose to 146, with nine active cases. Hertford’s case count rose to 164, with six active cases. Of other area counties, only Perquimans, with eight, had more than five active cases. Regionwide, the number of active cases rose to 84, 13 percent of all reported cases.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 66,513, an increase of 1,843 from Tuesday. The number of deaths associated with the virus rose to 1,373, an increase of 30 from Tuesday.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell to 901, a decrease of seven from Tuesday. Also, an additional 17,660 COVID-19 tests were completed on Wednesday, raising the statewide total to 942,238.

UPS delivery driver Darrell Boyce, of Edenton, delivers a small package to a business on Main Street in downtown Elizabeth City, Wednesday, July 1.

City begins collecting on delinquent accounts

A day after announcing it would resume disconnecting customers who fail to pay their utility bill, Elizabeth City is already seeing a response from delinquent customers.

“We are absolutely swamped,” City Manager Rich Olson said Wednesday when asked if utility customers had started contacting the city to make arrangements to pay on their past-due accounts.

The city was granted a waiver Tuesday from Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order halting utility disconnections and late fee charges through July 29.

State Attorney General Josh Stein granted the waiver from the governor’s COVID-19 relief measure hours after city officials said the city would defy Cooper’s order because its electric fund was set to run out of money by August.

The city had sought the waiver because about 26 percent of its utility customers aren’t paying their monthly bill, causing a significant cash flow problem for the city.

On Tuesday, the city had over 2,220 delinquent accounts. Information on how many delinquent customers began payment plans Wednesday was not immediately available.

Asked how the city plans to notify customers that the moratorium is now over, Olson said they will receive notification with their July bill.

“One of the reasons we did what we did was that (July) bills were dropped in the mail today,” Olson said. “There are messages on those bills.’’

Delinquent customers must pay their full July bill before they are allowed to sign up for a COVID-19 catchup plan.

In a related development, Carolina Journal reported Wednesday that state Treasurer Dale Folwell now plans to demand that Cooper issue similar waivers to other citizen-owned utilities. Folwell plans to put the issue to a vote at the next Council of State meeting July 7, CJ reported.

In its story, Carolina Journal said Folwell criticized the timing of Elizabeth City’s waiver.

“This waiver was granted only after the city said they could no longer make the choice between the governor’s order and potential bankruptcy,” he said. “Our local elected officials should not be put in a situation where they’re forced to go bankrupt or defy the governor’s order. But that’s exactly the position they were put in.”

Folwell told CJ that local government leaders know their communities, and the orders have unintended consequences.

In North Carolina, 13.7% of customers stopped paying utility bills. Utility providers racked up $252 million in late payments, and in April and May, 884,088 households faced disconnection.

While Tuesday’s waiver will help Elizabeth City avoid bankruptcy, it won’t solve the city’s financial woes. Olson told Carolina Journal the city will dip below its minimum fund balance in July — a red flag that will place it on the Local Government Commission’s watchlist of cities at risk for insolvency.

Folwell said he worries Elizabeth City won’t be the only local government to join the watchlist. The crisis could force the state to take over the finances of many troubled governments, he said.

“I’m trying to flatten the economic curve that’s affecting rural N.C.,” Folwell said.

Staff Writer Paul Nielsen contributed to this story.

Hertford police captain investigated after arrest of councilor

HERTFORD — Hertford Town Council has launched an investigation into a captain in the town’s police department who recently arrested a member of the council, a source close to Hertford’s town government says.

The investigation centers on Capt. Gilbert Rodriguez, the source told The Perquimans Weekly. Rodriguez has been placed on leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, the source said.

The reasons for the investigation are currently unknown. According to the agenda for its June 23 meeting, Hertford Town Council went into closed session to discuss police personnel matters. When the council resumed its open session after three hours, no vote was taken in open session to start an investigation.

The Perquimans Weekly sought information from town officials about the investigation of Rodriguez but had not received a response as of Wednesday.

Contacted by The Daily Advance on Wednesday, Hertford Town Manager Pam Hurdle referred the newspaper’s request for Rodriguez’s status to other town officials. The newspaper did not receive a response by late Wednesday.

The investigation comes in the wake of Rodriguez’s arrest of Hertford Councilman Quentin Jackson on charges of resisting, delaying and obstructing a police officer on June 20.

Court documents accuse Jackson, 34, of attempting to interfere with Rodriguez as he was conducting a traffic stop. Jackson was released on a written promise to appear in court. His court date is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Town officials have not responded to a request for more information about the traffic stop or Jackson’s arrest.

Jackson has not responded to efforts seeking comment.

In an unrelated matter, Jackson is also facing a misdemeanor charge of communicating threats. According to court documents, Jackson is accused of communicating threats against Sonya Thomas of Hertford on May 17. Jackson allegedly told Thomas he was going to beat her up and spit on her, an arrest report states.

Jackson’s court date for the communicating threats charge is scheduled for Aug. 12.

Jackson is currently serving two years of probation arising from his conviction for simple assault last year.

In December, Jackson spent a little over a week in jail following his guilty plea to assaulting then-Town Councilman Sid Eley by punching him in the face following a town board meeting on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to serving eight days in jail, Jackson was ordered to serve two years of probation, required to attend anger management counseling and pay court costs and fees.

According to court officials, the sentencing formula was based in part on Jackson’s prior arrest record that includes convictions for simple assault and communicating threats.

During proceedings at his trial, Jackson apologized to Eley and to his colleagues on Town Council.