With nearly triple the number of COVID-19 cases than Wake County per capita, Durham will not reopen restaurants, salons Friday

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham Mayor Steve Schewel has confirmed to ABC11 that Durham will be more restrictive than other parts of the state on reopening its businesses and institutions.

With North Carolina on the brink of entering Phase 2 of its reopening process, the Bull City is taking a more cautious approach. Durham personal care businesses such as beauty salons and barber shops, restaurants, and swimming pools will not be allowed to reopen until at least June 1, even though Gov. Roy Cooper announced that those businesses can open in other parts of the state starting Friday at 5 p.m.

In a news release Friday, Schewel said, "We've done a good job in Durham of keeping the virus at bay. But recently our cases have been growing at two times of rate of North Carolina as a whole, and our cumulative cases in Durham are now three times as great per capita as Wake County. For these reasons, it's prudent for the City and County to move forward more slowly to rescind our stay at home order."

Wake County has 13 cases for every 10,000 residents. Durham County has 37 cases for every 10,000 residents.

While the statewide average is about 20 cases per 10,000 residents, Durham County is definitely not the highest in the state. Chatham County has 77 cases for every 10,000 residents, and Duplin County is the highest in the state with 93 cases for every 10,000 residents.

Joyce Roberts and her barbers were surprised to learn the news.

"Next thing we know, we get a text from other people saying we cannot open in Durham until the first of June," said Roberts, of American Tobacco Barbershop. "And we were like, when did this come up?

On May 13, Schewel extended the city's stay-at-home order. An official update from the city is expected Friday.

"Because our infection rate is so low ... it means that we don't have much immunity," Schewel said last week. "And so, unless we are coming back with safe practices, it would be very easy for the COVID-19 cases to spike and to hit us very hard. We want to keep our community safe."

Roberts, whose shop is across from Durham Bulls Athletic Park, said she was very disappointed. Her team met Thursday to clean the entire barbershop and discuss their social-distance plan ahead of their weekend reopening -- now canceled.

"We actually took out a barber chair so that we had more space," Robert said. "It's a day-to-day thing for us, and we were so excited to get back into it. And now we can't."

Additionally, Durham Parks and Recreation announced that it would not open any of Durham's outdoor swimming pools for the summer. In a Facebook post, the department said that opening pools provided a logistical problem that would limit the number of residents allowed to access services, and the challenges outweighed the potential benefits to the few residents that would be able to safely enjoy the facilities.

Schewel has called Durham a "meds-and-eds" city due to hosting Duke University Hospital, the state's second-largest private employer, and accompanying Duke University. North Carolina Central University and Durham Tech also call the Bull City home. The academic and medical institutions are keys to helping Durham survive the pandemic and return to pre-COVID-19 economic stability.

"I think those assets of a city has already been incredibly important for Durham and the attractiveness of our city to people," he said. "I do think in the long-term, Durham is well-poised to recover well. I think the question for us is in the short-term is how can we successfully recover and renew, reemerge, how can we successfully reopen our businesses and still be safe."

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a new Executive Order that lifts the stay-at-home order, but proposes a "Safer-At-Home" plan. Gyms, health clubs, bars and nightclubs must remain closed under the new order.

In Durham, Durham Board of County Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs said restaurants, salons, pools and other businesses will be able to undergo a voluntary self-certification process to promote public health and safety while allowing businesses to give confidence to customers and employees.

Under Durham's modified stay-at-home order, like Cooper's new executive order, worship services, funerals and weddings are exempt from mass gathering limits. Childcare centers and summer camps will also be allowed to operate.

However, outdoor gatherings in Durham will be limited to 10 people, less than the state mandated limit of 25 people. Face coverings are required in public under the Durham stay-at-home order.

There is no expiration date on Durham's stay-at-home order. In a news release, county officials said it will remain in effect until it is rescinded.
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