Governor extends NC Stay At Home order; four of five new Columbus COVID cases tied to ‘large family gathering’’; Horry reports three new infections

Signs on display at the Loris Chamber of Commerce pay tribute to Loris High band seniors. See the story below. (Jenn Causey, TLT)

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

     Governor Roy Cooper has extended North Carolina’s Stay At Home order while detailing a plan to re-open the state.

     Cooper’s announcement came after news that a “large family gathering” is connected four new COVID-19 cases.

     Horry County Schools, meanwhile, is adopting to the pandemic with virtual graduations planned and other measures.

This post will cover these topics and will be updated:

  • ‘Large family gathering’ involved in four of five new COVID cases in Columbus County
  • Governor extends NC Stay At Home order to May 8
  • Three new COVID confirmations in Horry
  • Virtual graduations in Horry
  • LHS band director uses signs to salute seniors

‘Large family gathering’ involved in four of five new COVID cases in Columbus County

     A “large family gathering” is connected to four of five people newly confirmed with COVID-19 in Columbus County, the county health department reported Thursday.

     With those cases the county confirms a total of 81 coronavirus infections, more than most counties in the region, and on a per-capita basis easily higher than any area in southeastern North Carolina or northeastern South Carolina.

     “Investigation found that four of the five new cases are connected to a large, family gathering – one case is still under investigation,” the health department said in a news release. “One of the new positive cases is requiring hospitalization.

     “The Columbus County Health Department will continue to follow CDC guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection. Based on information provided by the individuals, county public health officials will assess risks of exposure, and determine which, if any, additional measures are needed such as temperature and symptom checks, quarantine and/or testing.

     “We are BEGGING the public to take the necessary measures to stop the transmission of COVID-19. The ONLY way to reduce the transmission of      COVID-19 is social distancing; there is no vaccination.

     Preventive measures against COVID-19, recommended by the Columbus County Health Department, include:

  • Social distancing (e.g. avoiding crowds, self-quarantining)
  • Wearing a mask or face covering when in public places
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw it away, and then wash your hands
  • Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched

     Statewide there are 7,608 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 93 North Carolina counties, with 253 deaths, the NC Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday.

     Regularly updated information from the Columbus County Health Department is available on its Facebook page here.

     Columbus County Health Department’s COVID-19 Call Center is also operating from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 910-640-6615 ext. 7045 or 7046.

Governor extends NC Stay At Home order to May 8

     Gov. Roy Cooper has extended North Carolina’s Stay At Home through at least May 8, while he and state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Dr. Mandy Cowan outlines a three-phase plan to re-open the state, and data and trends necessary to determine just when each step take place.

     “This plan provides a roadmap for us to begin easing restrictions in stages to push our economy forward,” Cooper said during a news briefing in Raleigh.

     “North Carolina cannot stay at home indefinitely,” Cooper said. “We have to get more people back to work. Right now, the decision to stay at home is based on the public health data and White House guidance. North Carolina needs more time to slow the spread of this virus before we can safely begin lifting restrictions.

     “I know that this pandemic has made life difficult for many people in our state and I am focused on keeping our communities safe while planning to slowly lift restrictions to help cushion the blow to our economy.”

     North Carolina is making progress towards meeting the goals necessary to begin re-opening the state, Dr. Cowan said, “but we’re not there yet.

     Those steps require a series of data confirmed trends during a 14-day period, Dr. Cowan said, and include:

  • Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over 14 Days
  • Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory in percent of tests returning positive over 14 days
  • Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory in hospitalizations over 14 days

     In addition, Dr. Cowan said, the state needs to:

  • Increase in laboratory testing
  • Increase intracing capability
  • Increase the availability of personal protective equipment, especially gowns and N95 masks, where current stocks remain insufficient.

     Governor Cooper outlined his three-phase plan for re-opening the state during the press briefing. His executive order can be found here.

His plan includes:

  • Phase 1: Modify the Stay At Home order allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers.

     Ensure that any open stores implement appropriate employee and consumer social distancing, enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols, symptom screening of employees, accommodations for vulnerable workers, and provide education to employees and workers to combat misinformation

     Continue to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people

     Reopen parks that have been closed subject to the same gathering limitation. Outdoor exercise will continue to be encouraged.

     Continue to recommend face coverings in public spaces when 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible

     Encourage employers to continue teleworking policies

     Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings

     Local emergency orders with more restrictive measures may remain in place.

  • Phase 2, at least 2-3 weeks after Phase 1

     Lift Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home to stay safe

     Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols including the potential need to reduce capacity

     Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity

     Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings

     Open public playgrounds

     Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings

  • Phase 3, at least 4-6 weeks after Phase 2

     Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible

     Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings

Three new COVID confirmations in Horry

     Testing has confirmed six more Horry County residents have contracted COVID-19, bringing the county total to 196 South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Thursday.

     One of those new cases was in the Loris Zip Code, bringing that total to 14. One case has been previously listed in the Green Sea Zip Code.

     DHEC’s website showed the Horry with 190 confirmed cases as of noon Tuesday, but three additional cases added to the 189 showing a day earlier would appear to show the county with 192 positive cases.

     Statewide there have been 4,917 positive tests returned for COVID-19 in South Carolina, up by 161 from Tuesday. Ten additional deaths in the state reported Thursday brings that total to 150.

Virtual graduations in Horry

     There will be no traditional graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 in Horry County’s high schools, with virtual tributes to seniors planned across the district, Supt. Dr. Rick Maxey has announced.

     That decision followed the announcement by Gov. Henry McMaster Wednesday to keep public schools across South Carolina closed for the remainder of the academic year.

     Closed March 16 as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes have moved mostly online, and most seniors will be receiving diplomas, though social distancing recommendations and other impacts of the pandemic means they won’t be marching across a stage with family and friends watching their proud moment.

     “While you, your families, and all of HCS desire traditional ceremonies, in light of the Governor’s closure of public schools, our HCS principals and I agree that the safest and most practical way for honoring each of you is for our graduations and our senior ceremonies to be conducted virtually,” Maxey said in a video message to students and families. “Horry County Schools has nine different attendance areas, each with its own high school, and likewise, each with its own community, history, and traditions.

     “Therefore, each high school and secondary program will create ceremonies that feature you and celebrate your high school experiences, accomplishments, and aspirations, while reflecting those special traditions that are unique to your school. All HCS virtual graduation and senior ceremonies will be pre-recorded and will be posted on your school’s website on the day and time that your school’s ceremony is scheduled.”

     Principals at each school will coordinate those virtual tributes and communicate with students and their families on what they should do.

     Seniors will be saluted in other ways, too.

     “During the month of May, our schools and district will be highlighting the Class of 2020 on our websites and on social media,” Maxey said. “The first event #BeTheLight, is scheduled for May 1st. To recognize you, all HCS high schools will turn on their stadium lights at 20:20 military time (8:20 PM) for 20 minutes to honor you for your many successes in academics, athletics, fine arts, and numerous other high school endeavors.

     “We are also inviting the citizens of the many communities of Horry County to join us in this recognition by turning on their porch lights at the same time.

     “Class of 2020, on behalf of the Horry County Board of Education and all Horry County Schools staff members, I want you to know we are proud of you, and we will always remember you.”

     View the superintendent’s message at https://tinyurl.com/y826h2m4.

     School leaders across the county are also making plans for ending the school year much differently than normal, Maxey said.

     “As educators, students, and parents, we would much rather be enjoying normal spring events such as school sports, concerts, musicals, plays, field trips, and other activities that lead up to summer vacation,” Maxey  said. “But this spring is an unprecedented one, not only for us locally, but for our state, our country, and the world.

     “As a result of the Governor’s announcement, Horry County Schools will continue with its present forms of instruction for grades CD-11 through the end of the scheduled academic year which ends on June 3rd. Detailed Information concerning grading for underclassmen can be located on the district’s website. As a reminder, senior course work must be completed and finalized by May 15.”

     Gov. McMaster’s and State Supt. Molly Spearman said school districts have flexibility on how to close the school year, and Horry County Schools has plans in place to “collect materials such as textbooks, digital devices, musical instruments, uniforms, etc.,” Maxey  said. “This will also give students an opportunity to collect their personal belongings. In order to do this in the most orderly manner and in compliance with social distancing requirements, in the near future, individual schools will communicate to parents and students the dates that they will establish for collections and the procedures that are to be followed.

     “I encourage you to monitor your school’s website and social media, as well as your email, for this upcoming information.”

LHS band director uses signs to salute seniors

     Class of 2020 band members at Loris High School may never play together again, their senior year on campus cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic that has closed public schools across South Carolina and nationwide.

     Band Director Stephen Whisnant said those band and orchestra seniors won’t receive the commencement attention they deserve, graduation ceremonies going virtual this year. Motorists in Loris have an idea just how proud Whisnant, who has been at LHS since 1998, is of his students, especially this class in the extraordinary year.

     Whisnant ordered signs earlier, and placed them in downtown Loris Tuesday, easily visible on the Loris Chamber of Commerce site on Main Street after winning easy approval from Chamber directors.

     “These kids have lost so much of their senior year,” Whisnant said. “All of the last concerts and games and the end of high school rites and rituals will not be happening. I just wanted to show them that they are loved and appreciated.”

     Recognized on the signs were:

  • LHS 2020 senior band members: Elijah Springs, Taylor Prichinello, Alyssa Ruppe, Michael McCray, Dylan Tyler, Chessa Lee, Brandon Humpheys, Ja’Lisa Grate, Ja’Reizz Grate, Colby Gerald, Bakari Kirton, Dennis Dew and Trinity Jacobs.
  • LHS 2020 senior orchestra members: Josie Prince, Brittany Strickland, Riley Gause, Hailey Graham and Ethan Lewis.

     Students are invited to pick up their signs Saturday morning, “and hopefully display them in their own yards,” Whisnant said.

     There is no specific time to pick up the signs, with students encouraged to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

     “We are educators,” Whisnant said in a Facebook post. “We want to be in school with our kids. We miss you and we are still hear for you.”

     Whisnant is married to another music educator, Sherry French Whisnant, who teaches at Daisy Elementary School. – Jenn Causey

Updates

     Look for continuing coverage on local impacts from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak here and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.