New Hanover County offers expertise and resources for safe reopening

By County Manager, Chris Coudriet

Since March 21, our community has been operating under a Stay At Home Order and navigating mitigation measures set by either state or local authorities to slow the spread of COVID-19. Residents, businesses and organizations have also implemented guidance to prevent and lessen the impact of the virus in our community.

These mitigation measures have served our community well. Our local healthcare system has not been overrun and the number of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 has remained manageable. I commend our residents for heeding guidelines, mitigation measures and recommendations; and I commend our business community for the creativity, innovation and resilience shown during this time of uncertainty. It’s no secret that these measures have, and continue to impact our residents and business community. Some businesses slowed or paused all together, and for others, operations have changed to meet guidelines and demand for service.

And now, businesses are beginning to reopen or adjust operations to a new normal, in keeping with the Governor’s phased plan for reopening. And the question is: How do we reopen safely so people can get back to work and we can begin economic recovery without great risk to the well-being of our community?

The county is helping lead that charge – with our Public Health and Strategy staff offering expertise and resources to businesses, nonprofits, the faith community and other community organizations as they open their doors. This is in addition to our continuous services to licensed and permitted establishments like restaurants, hotels and residential facilities that work with our public health team regularly through standard visits and inspections. Cleanliness and infection control will be a focus of the resources we provide, for day-to-day operations in office environments, retail stores, amusement facilities and others.

Anyone in our community can view Public Health’s guidelines to consider through the reopening process at Health.NHCgov.com/Coronavirus, and if you’d like to speak with someone on our team to talk through your individual processes, you can call the Coronavirus Call Center at 910-798-6800. If needed, we can also deploy a team to meet with you on site (maintaining all protective measures), to talk through processes that facilitate cleanliness and physical distancing.

We have developed a diverse team of staff from our Strategy and Public Health departments, including environmental health and communicable disease sections, so that our businesses and organizations have the information they need to take the right steps to protect their customers and staff. That will then translate to an increase in consumer confidence and help our economy recover in a safe way, limiting further spread of COVID-19. This initiative will continue through phases two and three of reopening, until our business community is comfortable operating in this new normal.

Additionally, we expect to receive approximately $4 million in funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund established under the CARES Act, for expenses made related to COVID-19 between March 1 and December 30, 2020. We have an opportunity to be creative in utilizing this funding in a way that maximizes recovery efforts and assists businesses and residents. Our team has developed a plan for these funds that includes a designation of $1.3 million for a small business economic incentive grant program. This program can protect businesses from the revenue loss that has resulted from COVID-19, and can help businesses reopen and get people back to work. This plan is still being finalized, and we will share more details soon – especially for the small business loan portion – so you can learn how your business can potentially benefit.

These efforts continue in parallel with increased testing, contact tracing and constant monitoring of COVID-19 in our community. Our team is ready to pivot if the landscape of the virus changes in our area, and I encourage you to be nimble in your operations as well. Utilize the county’s resources and consultation services as you reopen, continue safe practices in your homes and personal lives, and let’s all work together to persevere and help our economy recover.

We are all too familiar with recovery and bouncing back after an emergency and, fortunately, this has developed great resilience among our residents and businesses. And we will bounce back from this as well, it will just take time.

Thank you to our businesses, nonprofits, community organizations and dedicated volunteers, as well as our own county and municipal employees that have, and will continue to serve our community through this next phase. As a public servant I am honored to work alongside you and as a resident I’m grateful our community is in your (washed) hands.

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