As expected, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel announced a stay-at-home order on Wednesday, tightening safety measures deployed earlier this month when he declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus.

Schewel ordered residents to stay at home unless they are participating in essential services and activities until April 30. The order limits the gathering of 10 or more people in any public or private places, prohibits contact sports and team sports where participants cannot practice social distancing at all times and the shutdown of non-essential business operations.

“Except as allowed in this order,” the order says, “all individuals in the City of Durham are prohibited from being or traveling upon any street, alley, or roadway or upon public property, or participating or carrying on any business activity, or keeping open places of business or entertainment and any other place of public assembly.”

The order exempts those fleeing domestic violence or experiencing homelessness. 

The order also orders all businesses not deemed essential to close and cease activities (see below for a list of exemptions).

The mayor said he has spoken with a Duke Health executive who told him that the current period, with the county reporting 74 COVID-19 cases, represents a “window for social distancing to work.”

“Fortunately, the numbers in North Carolina and Durham are low, and we want to keep it that way,” the mayor added.

The order, which goes into effect on Thursday at 6:00 p.m., will be legally enforced by the Durham police, but without arrests or citations. Instead, members of law enforcement will “forcefully” inform residents to disperse, Schewel said.

However, residents who “continuously and egregiously offend” the order may face legal censure.

The mayor reiterated that essential businesses and services—such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurant take-outs and health-related and outdoor activities like walking and hiking are exempted from the order.

The stay-at-home order issued by his office comes one day after Mecklenburg and Pitt Counties issued similar prohibitions. Other large cities across the state are expected to employ similar measures in the coming days, including Wake County this afternoon

Schewel has spoken with Wendy Jacobs, who chairs the Durham County Board of Commissioners, and said the county commissioners “strongly support” the order and will issue their own countywide order “in the next few days.”

Here is how the order addresses which Durham businesses can remain open and which cannot: 

“All businesses and operations in the emergency area of the City of Durham, except ‘Essential Businesses and Operations’ as defined below, are to cease all activities. This requirement applies irrespective of the nature of the service or function performed by the business or organization and without regard to the organization’s corporate or entity structure. Businesses and Operations that are not deemed Essential will be allowed to conduct ‘Minimum Basic Operations,’ as defined below.

Working from Home. Businesses may continue any operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing activities at their own residences.

Essential Businesses and Operations. The following businesses, activities, and functions are not prohibited from operating and are encouraged to operate and remain open to the public, provided that they enforce, to the extent reasonably possible, Social Distancing Requirements and meet any other requirements in this Order.”

The order then delineates the businesses exempted from the ordinance. 

“Businesses that sell, produce, or distribute groceries, medicine, or essential household goods. Grocery stores, farms, farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, food banks, convenience stores, and other businesses, whether retail or wholesale, engaged in the sale, production, or distribution of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any other essential household consumer product or food necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences or businesses permitted to operate and ordered herein.

“Human Services Operations. For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence to work for a Human Services Operation or to obtain the services of a Human Services Operation that cannot be accessed by remotely. Before leaving home to obtain such Human Services, individuals in need should first seek to access these services by telephone or through digital or other online access, and all Human Services Operations are strongly urged to make such services available by telephone, online, and/or digital access as a first option for clients.

“Human Services Operations include, but is not limited to: long-term care facilities; residential settings and shelters for adults, seniors, children, and/or people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders, and/or mental illness; transitional facilities; home-based settings to provide services to individuals with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities, seniors, adults, and children; field offices that provide and help to determine eligibility for basic needs including food, cash assistance, medical coverage, child care, vocational services, rehabilitation services; developmental centers; adoption agencies; businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged individuals, individuals with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities, or otherwise needy individuals.

“Human Services Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of human services, broadly defined.

“Healthcare and public health operations. Hospitals, medical clinics, dental and eye care clinics, urgent care facilities, and other healthcare providers, to the extent their services cannot be provided virtually, which is the strongly preferred alternative. Before leaving home to obtain access to healthcare and public health services, individuals in need should first seek to access these services by telephone or through digital or other online access, and all Healthcare and Public Health Operations are strongly urged to make such services available by telephone, online, and/or digital access as a first option for clients. To avoid any impact on delivery of healthcare, this term shall be broadly defined, but shall not include fitness and exercise gyms, spas, salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, and similar facilities, and further it shall not include any prohibited business or activity covered by any order of the Governor or other entity having jurisdiction over the City of Durham.

“Media and first amendment protected speech. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services. Also expressly permitted are services, counseling, pastoral care, and other activities provided by religious organizations to the members of their faith community where such services or activities are made available by telephone, online, and/or digital access. 

“Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation. Gas stations and auto-supply, automotive, farm equipment, and construction equipment repair and related facilities. Bicycle sales and repair shops and related facilities are, likewise, deemed Essential and are encouraged to remain operational for curbside pick-up and drop-off and delivery services only.

Financial and insurance institutions. Banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions, where such services cannot be provided online or digitally, which is the preferred alternative, and provided said institutions observe and implement social distancing practices in the provision of inperson services. Individuals should only leave their homes for financial or insurance services if the need to access such services is of a critical or emergency nature. Financial service providers are strongly urged to make web-based or digital services available as a first option for clients.

“Hardware stores and businesses that sell electrical, plumbing, and heating material.

“Critical trades. Building and Construction Trades, and other related trades, including but not limited to, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC, painting, moving and relocation services, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, Essential Activities, and Essential Businesses and Operations. Any of the aforesaid Critical Trades services provided in person shall observe Social Distancing Requirements.

“Mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services. Post offices and other businesses that provide shipping and delivery services, and businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, vehicles or services to end users or through commercial channels.

“Educational institutions. Public and private preK-12 schools, colleges and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning, performing critical research, or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the extent possible. This is consistent with and does not amend or supersede other Orders regarding school closures.

“Laundry services. Laundromats, dry cleaners, industrial laundry services, and laundry service providers.

“Restaurants for consumption off-premises. Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for consumption off-premises, through such means as in-house delivery, third-party delivery, drive-through, curbside pick-up, and carry-out. Schools and other entities that typically provide food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so under this Order on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pick-up and takeaway basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site due to the virus’s propensity to physically impact surfaces and personal property. This is consistent with and does not amend or supersede other Orders regarding the closure of restaurants.

“Services and supplies for Essential Businesses, Essential Government Services, or Minimal Basic Operations. Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply support or materials needed to enable Essential Businesses, Essential Government Services, or Minimum Basic Operations, as such terms are defined herein.

“Transportation. Airlines, taxis, transportation network providers (such as Uber and Lyft), vehicle rental services, paratransit, and other private, public, and commercial transportation and logistics providers necessary for Essential Activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this Order.

“Home-based care and services. For adults, seniors, children, and/or people with disabilities, substance abuse, and/or mental illness, including caregivers and service providers, who may travel to a home to provide care and other in-home services, such as meal delivery.

“Residential facilities or shelters. For adults, seniors, children, pets, disabled persons, substance abuse, and/or mental illness.

“Professional services. Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (restricted to appraisal and title services), notary services, payroll and employee benefit services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities, for the functioning and operation of critical infrastructure sector services, or where failure to provide such services during the time of this Order would result in significant prejudice. Any of the aforesaid professional services provided in person shall observe Social Distancing Requirements.

“Childcare facilities. For specific employees exempted by this Order, as well as Childcare facilities providing services that enable first responders, healthcare workers, public health, HHS staff and others responding to COVID-19.

“Hotels and motels. Hotels and motels, to the extent used for lodging and delivery or carry-out food services.

“Funeral services. Funeral, mortuary, cremation, burial, cemetery, and related services.

In addition, businesses that operated primarily outside may continue operating, and nonessential businesses can do so if they operate primarily through mail order. 

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at 

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