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Cooper: With things 'mostly stable,' North Carolina can move to Phase 3

RALEIGH — Bars and other entertainment venues will be able to reopen at limited outdoor capacity as the state moved to Phase 3 of eased pandemic restrictions, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday.

Movie theaters, entertainment spaces and amusement parks can also reopen under the order.

The change offers some relief to businesses that have said they have been treated unfairly.

Cooper said officials are cautiously encouraged by COVID-19 metrics, but there are warning signs for both North Carolina and the rest of the country.

"Our stability is fragile," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "I believe that North Carolina can do this safely. But so I am clear: Every gathering carries the risk of spreading this disease."

Here is a look at some of the new guidelines under Phase 3:

• Movie theater and conference occupancy is set at 30% capacity, or 100 people, whichever is less. In movie theaters, the capacity limit applies to each screen.

• Bars can open outdoors only at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less. Bars that don't have outdoor seating can open outdoor spaces to no more than seven people for every 1,000 square feet of outdoor area. The 11 p.m. alcohol curfew for on-site consumption stays in place.

• Outdoor amusement parks may open at 30% capacity. Indoor amusement park rides must remain closed.

• Mass gathering limits remain at 25 for indoors and 50 for outdoors. Fitness facilities, restaurants, personal care businesses (barbershops and hair salons) and museums continue to have the same capacity limits outlined under Phase 2.5, which took effect Sept. 4.

N.C. Secretary of Health Mandy Cohen said the new Phase 3 is a "thoughtful step forward" that reflects balancing progress with preventing viral spread. 

"We are taking cautious steps forward in this next phase," Cohen said. "I think it's why you see, with every venue that we're opening, that there are both capacity restrictions, masking restrictions, social-distancing requirements."

The new executive order means bars that have been closed since mid-March will now be able to reopen. But they'll need to have the ability to open with outdoor capacity.

For the first four months of the pandemic, Foundation, the decade-old bar in downtown Raleigh, made repairs and upgrades.

"Then we were essentially broke," co-owner Will Alphin said Wednesday. 

Alphin said they were hoping to be open, at least for outdoor service, by September, giving Foundation a couple months before the weather drove everyone back indoors. That didn't happen.

Now, Alphin isn't sure how Phase 3 will affect business.

"If we had September and October, that would have been useful for us," Alphin said. "With just October, I'm not sure it will be enough."

In Durham, Kotuku Surf Club owner Rhys Botica planned to hold a staff meeting Thursday to consider when the bar might reopen.

But for Botica, Phase 3 arrives too late.

"We've been waiting and waiting and waiting," Botica said. "It's death by a thousand cuts."

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Seven months into coronavirus: families and nursing home patients struggle

Weekends were always for Larry.

Michelle Goyeau, 52, spent the week working full-time as a public health social worker in the mountains of North Carolina. At home, she helped her 17-year-old son with college applications and online school.

But on Saturday, March 14, Goyeau jumped in the car — as she often did on weekends — to visit her husband.

Larry is 64 years old and in a memory care facility in Asheville. He has early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began for him around the age Michelle is now.

When Goyeau walked into her husband’s facility, she was told it would be the last time she could see him because of coronavirus restrictions.

“None of us really knew where this was going,” she said.

So, she set up FaceTime visits with Larry and played the familiar Bob Dylan tracks on his iPod to make up for the screen between them.

March emptied into April, which blurred into May and dragged on to June. Michelle’s virtual visits “seemed OK,” until she was told Larry was behaving differently.

By August, he was crying and yelling, seeming more frustrated than he had been months before. She scheduled a FaceTime visit to see him.

For families like Goyeau’s, time is not on their side. As long-term care facilities approach seven months of lockdown, families are noticing major declines in the physical and mental health of their loved ones who have been quarantined inside.

“It was such a dramatic difference,” Goyeau said.

She paused, taking labored breaths, and began retelling the day she saw her husband through an unfeeling video screen.

When he was wheeled into the frame, Larry was slumped over in his chair, sedated.

This was the man who loved being active outdoors, paddling or riding his bike. He was most comfortable in jeans, a fleece jacket and his hiking boots. The only time Larry ever wore a tie was at a wedding or funeral, Goyeau said.

But when she saw him over FaceTime, he was disheveled and listless. Wanting to see him in-person, Michelle then scheduled a window visit at his facility, the first since March.

She noticed, almost blithely and in the way only a wife could, that he needed a haircut. But she couldn’t reach out and take care of him.

“I don’t know if he’s giving up,” Goyeau said, her voice faltering. “I’m not there, you know? And I — don’t know what he’s feeling.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that indoor visits are permitted in certain long-term care facilities with no recent outbreaks. But for Goyeau and others, this update comes too late for family members who have declined since March.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive and irreversible neurological condition. As it advances, toxic changes in the brain create an environment where brain cells cannot communicate with each other. A few weeks’ time may not make a significant difference in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but months can.

Larry smiled when she spoke to him, but Michelle realized in the months that had passed since March, time and isolation made her husband worse.

“There’s all these stories of people dying alone,” Goyeau said. “This is not how their stories should end.”

For nearly a decade since her husband’s diagnosis, Goyeau has been coordinating care for her him and taking over the financial and household responsibilities. Larry has been living away from his wife and son for several years, first in an assisted living facility and now in a memory care center.

Since the pandemic began, Goyeau spent hours a day monitoring the state’s coronavirus updates, hoping an announcement or exception would allow her to see her husband. Now that indoor visits are permitted, she’s following up with her husband’s facility to see how quickly they’ll begin.

“I’m really sad that we’ve missed so much time together,” Goyeau said.

As North Carolina attempts to control one public health crisis, families of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients say another arises in the form of extended periods of isolation from friends and family.

Linda Hyatt Pope’s mother is 81 years old and has Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia that causes paranoia and delusions in some patients. Margaret Gowan has both. She has been living in a nursing home in Huntersville since before the pandemic. Pope was able to visit her mother and calm her when she had episodes.

“Now, here we are, fast forward with COVID-19, that stopped everything,” Pope said.

Gowan, who relies on lip-reading because of her poor hearing, is often unable to connect with her daughter through window visits or calls.

One day, Pope tried to visit her mother through double-paned glass. Gowan didn’t understand why she couldn’t come inside and pleaded through tears at the window.

“Why can’t you come in? Just put this mask on. You can come in.”

“It tears your heart into a million pieces,” Pope said.

Like Goyeau, Pope says there’s not just an emotional imperative, but an urgency to being able to visit family in nursing homes. Since the pandemic, Pope said her mother progressed to the next stage of her dementia, and her episodes have become more frequent and more intense.

“I know that this disease is going to kill her” Pope said. “It’s hard to wait for the next phase, 2.5, 2.75 or (if) there’s going to be another outbreak.”

Dr. Claire Larson works in geriatric medicine in Chapel Hill. She says symptoms of anxiety, depression and loneliness have been more prevalent in elderly patients since the pandemic began.

But families and patients know why visits are limited. They know the threat of coronavirus in nursing homes is tremendous — 40% of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are linked to nursing homes, according to The New York Times.

N.C. DHHS and Gov. Roy Cooper work together to set guidelines for nursing homes, which are also shaped by recommendations made by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Kelly Haight Connor, communications manager for N.C. DHHS, said most nursing homes are regulated by the federal government through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS is a part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Minnesota, Florida and Texas already updated nursing home recommendations to include essential caregivers on approved visitor lists. These recognized visitors, often a family member or friend, are deemed essential to a patient’s daily care or emotional well-being and allowed to visit indoors.

“All we’re asking is to have the same rights that nurses have,” Pope said. “We understand if they need to set a limit on where and how long (visits) can be.”

Goyeau, Pope and others are trying to get North Carolina to adopt its own essential caregiver designation.

CMS does not distinguish between essential caregivers and other visitors, according to its Sept. 17 statement. But CMS also issued guidance on permitting indoor visits in certain circumstances, acknowledging that “physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents.”

Until in-person visits trickle down to their facilities, all Pope and Goyeau have is whatever outdoor visits and phone calls they can schedule.

Pope says with the holidays coming up, it’s even more important to be able to see her mother, who she says has never spent a holiday without her family.

Goyeau had her first outdoor visit with her husband on Sept 17. She said the 6-foot table between them had a tablecloth on it with an autumn-themed centerpiece — a sweet, but wistful attempt at normalcy.

“I was giddy with the thought of being able to see him,” Goyeau said. “Like, oh my God, am I in high school or something?”

But the fact that she was masked brought back the chill of reality. Her voice was muffled, and it obscured her familiar face. Larry was more alert than he had been in recent FaceTime calls, she said, but he was still not responding much to voice, despite being as close as she’d been in half a year.

“It was a little more pleasant than I thought,” she said. “But it was really hard not to break the rules and give him a big hug and hold his hand.”

When she left, she realized outdoor visits — which many applauded — were still no replacement. Even indoor visits won’t make up for time lost, she said.

“I don’t know if he knows who I am at this point,” Goyeau said.

But Michelle knows who Larry is. She knows it took chatting with him by the vending machine at their work several times before they were dating for him to realize she was flirting.

She knows he played a mixtape of songs from their wedding when she was in labor.

She knows he loves being a dad to their only child, Zach, and changed more diapers than even she did.

What she doesn’t know is when he’ll be home, or when she can see him in person. She doesn’t know if they can celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas together. There’s a collection of ornaments the family bought as Zach grew up, and Michelle doesn’t know if Larry will be there to decorate the tree.

“Missing that time with someone who doesn’t have a lot of time left is just cruel,” she said.

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High Point interim police chief calls exchange of gunfire between officers and suspect 'an attempt to murder our police officer'

HIGH POINT — After two officers and a larceny suspect exchanged gunfire Tuesday morning, the High Point Police Department is asking “what if?”

What if the officers’ shots had led to the victim bleeding out on the street? What if the suspect’s gunfire had brought down an officer?

In a press conference Wednesday morning, Interim Police Chief Travis Stroud posed the hypothetical questions and, with the help of Lt. B.J. Macfarland, provided additional details about what happened early Tuesday that led to the shooting.

Police made one arrest but are still looking for two suspects in the series of vehicle break-ins and larcenies that led to one suspect shooting at officers before fleeing. Neither officer was injured but police don't know if the suspect was hit by a bullet during the exchange, which led to some homes being struck.

“About 4 in the morning, we know a group of individuals went into the neighborhoods in the area of Skeet Club (Road) and Johnson (Street) and started checking door handles,” Macfarland said at the press conference, describing how events unfolded Tuesday.

Macfarland said police obtained video footage from home surveillance in the area that shows three people walking up to cars and pulling on handles to see if they were unlocked. Police said they know of at least 41 cars that suspects either tried to or did break in to that morning.

The group of three moved on from the cars that were locked, but found plenty of unlocked cars to steal from, Stroud said. A firearm, credit and debit cards and clothes were among items stolen. A house was also broken in to and two cars were stolen, police said. 

It wasn’t until about 5:35 a.m. that police received a report from a resident on Fair Port Court about two people — police said the three suspects appeared to break up to cover more ground in the neighborhood — checking their car doors and those of their neighbors, according to Macfarland.

Macfarland said two officers arrived and were met with two people in the road who immediately tried to flee. One of the suspects was in a black Audi, which police later learned was stolen out of Raleigh on Sept. 19.

“When officers went to detain them and investigate the suspicious activity, one of the subjects fired a handgun,” through the driver’s window of the Audi, Macfarland said.

The shot was “disturbingly close” to hitting one of the officers, according to Stroud.

“Our officers retreated a little bit, took some cover, returned fire, and then that individual jumped into another car and fled the scene,” Stroud said.

"This was nothing short of an attempt to murder our police officer yesterday," Stroud added. "It’s as simple as that. I cannot stress how impactful this is and could have been to our city and our community. Those officers are a part of our family here at the police department."

After the shooting, more officers responded, along with deputies from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. They began searching for evidence and the suspects. In the abandoned black Audi, police found a 9 mm handgun, two .22 caliber rifles and a 20 gauge shotgun, Macfarland said.

Around 7:15 a.m., officers found one of the three suspects.

Police said they found 19-year-old Nakore Kewan Rogers of Durham in some brush on Johnson Street, just north of Skeet Club Road. He came out with his hands on his head and was taken into custody without incident.

Rogers was charged with two counts of breaking and entering a motor vehicle and two counts of larceny in connection to overnight larcenies from vehicles in High Point. Police said Rogers also had outstanding warrants out of Durham, Mebane and Graham on charges of breaking and entering a motor vehicle and larceny. 

He’s in custody at the Guilford County jail in High Point under a $244,000 secured bail.

The search remains on for the other two suspects, Stroud said. They did not provide a description of the pair or indicate if they might still be in the High Point area. While they continue to search, they're also investigating the shots fired by their officers and the suspect.

"I’m not prepared to say how many times officers returned fire," Macfarland said. "That part is still under investigation," as is where all of the rounds went after being discharged. 

"Some of those rounds that impacted (local homes) were probably ours," Stroud said. "I do not like putting our citizens in that situation. That is something we’re not exactly proud of."

Police spoke to witnesses in the area after what happened, according to Macfarland.

"One witness to the incident reported that the suspect fired at least three rounds at the officers and continued to point the handgun at the officers as the suspect was fleeing, running up the roadway," Macfarland said. "Another call reported hearing at least three shots, a brief pause and then additional shots."

While there is no indication that either of the officers' rounds struck the suspect, Stroud said that possibility does exist since they have not found the suspect. In the meantime, because there is no evidence that suggests the officers struck the man, the department will investigate what happened but not the SBI. The SBI typically investigates when such cases involve deadly force. 

Through contact with other agencies, High Point police learned that the suspect they have in custody is gang-affiliated, though Stroud did not say which gang. In response to what happened, Stroud said the city will continue to focus on violent crime as long as he is interim police chief. 

In addition to going after illegal guns — the department has taken 324 guns off the street so far this year — Stroud said the department will continue to stop cars in the city.

"We are going to make stops based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause," he said. "That's what the law allows us to do."

Stroud said community members can stay safe from crimes like the ones Tuesday morning by locking their car doors and taking any valuables inside their homes. But he also directed people to stay out of harm's way. He said he worries about what would have happened had a community member leaving for work or out for a morning jog confronted one of the suspects from the early morning larcenies.

"People are going to look at this and say ‘Oh, it was just a larceny. People are just stealing stuff. It’s not hurting anybody,'" Stroud said.

"This is much, much bigger than a larceny. I cannot stress what it would have done to our city had it gone in another direction." 

"What kind of impact is that on our community?" Stroud asked. "Across the nation, we see it all the time. … Are we going to be like a lot of the other cities that see civil unrest immediately? … Are we going to be given the time to investigate properly and get the facts like we’re trying to do now?"

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Zoom bombers interrupted this Greensboro church's virtual service and made threats. Authorities are now investigating.

GREENSBORO — A so-called "Zoom-bombing" during his church's virtual worship service on the videoconferencing platform wasn't just mischief but criminal, says the pastor of Sharpe Road Church of Christ.

Zoom knows whose accounts were used in hijacking the service and has suspended them, said Minister Nicholas Glenn. But the video platform, which has become popular amid the coronavirus pandemic to hold virtual meetings and events, has yet to tell him who did it.

"They made death threats," Glenn said. "We want to know who these people are, but we have no indication who they are yet, and why they picked us. It was just a horrific experience and we don't want anybody to go through this."

Glenn filed a complaint with the Guilford County Sheriff's Office and the case has been turned over to an internet crimes detective, said spokesperson Lori Poag. It is unclear what, if any, charges could be filed. 

In a written statement to the News & Record from Zoom, the company condemned the incident, calling it "truly devastating and appalling."

The company said it "takes meeting disruptions extremely seriously" and "where appropriate, we work closely with law enforcement authorities."

Similar hacks have also been reported during virtual classroom settings as more schools go online and even court proceedings. The FBI warns planners not to make meetings or classrooms public.

Like many churches, the southeast Guilford County congregation has stopped in-person gatherings and has been using the online app for virtual services to help stem the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, which, since the first reported case in the state in March, has killed 185 Guilford County residents as of Wednesday, according to state health data. But members still wanted to be able to maintain a connection. Zoom allows viewers to post images and words to a chat box and see each other's screens. The service also streams on Facebook, which does not have the same interactive abilities. The church has posted its Zoom meeting codes to sign in on its Facebook page so that anyone could join.

As the service took place on Sunday, Glenn's wife suddenly turned to him and told him to stop the broadcast.

Zoom "bombers" identifying themselves as white supremacists and referencing "MAGA 2020" had jumped onto some of the screens, typing the N-word, that "black lives don't matter" and other disturbing language, while also drawing pornographic images.

Glenn keeps the screens muted during the service so there were no sounds to go with it.

Members were shocked.

"Contact the FBI," wrote one person on social media in responses to screen shots of the language.

"These people are evil and sick! I'm so sorry!"

Glenn sees it as a hate crime.

"It was clear that there was a spirit of hate," Glenn said. "There was audacity."

Glenn's sermons are pre-recorded, so Glenn was monitoring the master video. His wife, seated on their couch and watching like everyone else on the Zoom call, saw what was happening on the secondary screens as it unfolded.

Glenn kicked out the offending visitors.

He also filed a complaint with Zoom the same day.

"They got back with me yesterday afternoon and said they were able to trace the individual accounts and removed them from the platform," Glenn said Tuesday.

But the company did not identify the individuals.

"I'm hoping the sheriff's department will get that information," Glenn said of the perpetrators.

Something has to be done to show that there are consequences, he said.

Glenn, who has received calls of support from other faith leaders of various races and sees it as a call for unity in this country, says none of what took place Sunday will stop the ministry from getting out.

The leadership team at the church has also looked at different security measures when there are people on campus. Glenn said the church will no longer provide its Zoom meeting codes on Facebook and will encourage visitors to watch the service using their own Facebook accounts. The church also streams the service on Facebook.

"It's ironic that the message on Sunday was, 'Everything is going to be alright,' " Glenn said of the pre-recorded messages. "That was part one, and very appropriately, part two is this week."