The past month has been an unprecedented and difficult time for our community. Businesses have had to close their doors; the way essential services are delivered has changed; and people are staying home and away from others instead of enjoying the typical spring-time gatherings that usually take place this time of year.
But the things we are doing now are so important because the COVID-19 virus is here in our community, and we must take precautions to prevent the virus’ spread to save lives and help our hospital system from becoming overburdened.
Things are different and we have a long road ahead of us. But I can tell you with confidence that through all of this uncertainty, New Hanover County and our Public Health experts have – and will to continue to be – there for our residents.
In February, a core team from the county’s Public Health, Emergency Management, and Communications and Outreach departments was established to lead the planning and response effort to COVID-19. And then our emergency operations ramped up in March, with enhanced planning and preparedness. It has truly been a collaborative effort from the start, with our preparedness and clinical Public Health experts at the forefront and serving as our subject matter experts.
On March 17, our Emergency Operations Center officially activated (although they had been working in a monitoring status since February). This activation included our Joint Information Center for public communications and a Coronavirus Call Center to answer questions from our residents who need guidance, health advice, or resources.
We have deployed Public Health Nurses to residents who need to be tested and do not have access to a physician’s office or insurance. We have monitored those in our community who have tested positive, we have checked in on their health and also worked to contact anyone who they have been in close contact.
We have secured additional personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers and our emergency responders – both from suppliers and also through the generosity of our community. As I write this, more than 27,000 pieces of PPE have been donated, including gloves, masks, gowns, and the like. We have an incredibly generous community and I have seen that in the past few weeks.
We have also increased restrictions on our community and our businesses. We have asked people to stay home and for many non-essential businesses to close their doors or move their services online or curbside. Thank you to our many businesses who have shown adaptability and innovative solutions during this time.
This is uncharted territory for all of us, but the teams at both the county and the city are actively working to answer questions from residents and businesses each day and provide updates through online frequently asked questions. You can view those and link to the city’s page at Health.NHCgov.com.
The decisions to increase restrictions have been difficult to make, but Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman made them in coordination with all of the local mayors and with the guidance of our Public Health experts. I appreciate their leadership during this community crisis, and the collaboration they continue to show with one another.
I know many of our businesses, our tourism industry, and our residents are worried about their personal health and the health of their employees, and you are also worried about the health of your business or the organization you work for. The county is already in active conversations with the City of Wilmington and Chamber of Commerce about economic recovery for our community.
Now is the time to collaborate and use the strong partnerships we have in our community. After Hurricane Florence, the Chamber of Commerce set up a Business Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that provides clear communication to and from the New Hanover County EOC. For more information and resources related to this business resource, visit the Chamber’s website. You can also take a survey to help the chamber and other partners assess the business needs emerging from the COVID-19 crisis here.
We are grateful to every business for your investment in our community, and we are committed to supporting you through these times. I encourage residents to continue your great support of our local businesses too – whether that is through online services, curbside pickup, delivery or gift card purchases.
And while county employees continue to practice our core value of innovation by increasing our teleworking capabilities (we currently have more than 600 employees working from home), we are committed to providing the superior service you need and are accustomed to. One of those ways is to ensure our online platforms are able to serve you and provide the resources and information you need. Some of those include:
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