Editor’s note: This story was produced through a partnership between the INDY and The 9th Street Journal, which is published by journalism students at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.
Mayor Steve Schewel took to YouTube this week with a message for Durham residents: The city’s stay-at-home order is working.
But don’t assume Durham is ready to reopen.
The mayor is prepared to extend the city’s stay-at-home order through the end of May if needed, he told 9th Street Thursday afternoon. The order, stricter than state limits, is currently set to expire April 30.
“Most everyone I know who’s been thinking about this carefully believes we will have to extend the order through the end of May,” Schewel said. “But we haven’t made that decision yet.”
Durham can now expect a peak in COVID-19 illness between April 24 and May 2, according to Duke Health system projections, the mayor said in his recorded message.
Durham County has 243 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death as of today, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That ranks Durham third statewide for confirmed cases of coronavirus illness, after Wake and Mecklenburg counties.
But new cases of COVID-19 grew by 8% per day in Durham last week, the lowest rate of any city in North Carolina, Schewel said. This week, that rate has lowered to 7%, he said in the interview.
Now, Duke Health experts predict that Durham will have 1,600 total virus cases by May 9, two months after the city’s first confirmed case on March 9, Schewel said. That number is much lower than last week’s projections, he said.
“Our current infection rates put Durham in far better shape than North Carolina as a whole,” he said. “It puts us on par with South Korea, the country that has done the best in containing the virus.”
Schewel pledged to issue a written report about the city’s broad response to the local coronavirus outbreak and economic burdens emergency orders have imposed on Durham businesses and individuals, he said.
As for now, the mayor urged all residents to stay home, socially distance, wash hands and celebrate religious holidays like Passover and Easter by tuning into their places of worship virtually.
“Your actions are saving lives,” the mayor said, speaking earnestly to the camera. “We must maintain this curve.”
Photo at top: City officials tweeted this photo of Mayor Steve Schewel Thursday when announcing release of his video message to Durham residents.