The Year That Was


What was the biggest story in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and southern Orange County in 2020?

There’s no question: the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic, the outbreak of COVID-19, affected our families, our routines, our businesses, our schools, our campus, our plans, even our hopes — pretty much every aspect of our lives and this community’s life.

Here’s a look back at some of the one hundred or so stories published by The Local Reporter in 2020 that delineated, explained and tracked the indelible impact the coronavirus had on all of us. And undoubtedly will have on all us into 2021 and beyond.

Orange County Issues Stay-at-Home Order

March 26, 2020 — Orange County issued a stay-at-home directive to all residents Thursday morning in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The order will take effect Friday at 6 p.m. and will remain in effect until April 30 at 5 p.m.

The county said the measure has been put in place to minimize all unnecessary activities outside the home to slow the spread of the virus and protect the public. The action was taken in consultation with the Orange County Health Department and in coordination with the Towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.

United, Carrboro Restaurants Fight Back

April 2, 2020 — Carrboro’s restaurants have been closed and the town’s food service economy has been on the verge of collapse because of COVID-19. But instead of fighting to survive on their own, a number of Carrboro businesses have banded together to serve the public and help themselves.

Carrboro United, launched by a group of local restaurants, town leaders, farmers and food purveyors, is operating a central food hub during the coronavirus outbreak, helping feed the public and putting some money directly back into the local food service economy. The organization buys food from local farmers and restaurants who would otherwise have few outlets for their food, and sells it to customers three days per week from the hub.

PPEople Providing Protection2020 Coronavirus, The Year That Was, The Local Reporter

April 26, 2020 — It’s easy to do. The components are available, and you might even already have some of them at home. And the end-product is desperately needed.

Inspired by a video created by a Greensboro woman, a loosely organized group of local makers, crafters and other community members — concerned about the safety of medical providers on the front lines in the COVID-19 pandemic — has created more than 6,000 face shields and provided them for free to healthcare providers locally and across the state. 

A Challenging Time for Local Funeral Homes

May 7, 2020 — As COVID-19 deaths mount nationwide, funeral homes in areas with the highest death tolls have become overwhelmed. While that hasn’t been the case with local funeral homes, who haven’t had more clients than usual, their owners say operating during the pandemic has presented other challenges.

Stephen Mitchell, the manager and funeral director of Walker’s Funeral Home on West Franklin Street, said he has had to limit indoor funeral services to 10 or fewer people and outdoor services to 50 or fewer to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s guidelines on limiting the size of group gatherings. Although Mitchell said his clients have kept their services small, he said ensuring that they practice social distancing during funerals has been difficult.

Financial Assistance Available to Renters

May 8, 2020 — Chapel Hill residents in urgent need of rent relief during the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for a one-time payment of up to $2,000.

Because of the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 and ensuing job losses, the Chapel Hill Town Council has allocated $135,000 to assist residents struggling with unpaid rent. The move comes on the heels of the town recently updating its Rental and Utility Assistance Program to better serve more people facing emergency housing needs. The program provides financial assistance to secure affordable rental housing or prevent impending eviction for low income residents. 

IFC Moves Residents to Hotel Rooms

May 30, 2020 — The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, which provides housing for those experiencing homelessness in Orange County, has moved a large chunk of its residents to local hotel rooms.

IFC, Orange County Department of Social Services, Orange County Emergency Operations Center and the Town of Chapel Hill all worked together on the project. Jackie Jenks, IFC’s executive director, said the agency moved all 66 of its single adult residents from Community House and Homestart, its two Chapel Hill shelters with multiple beds per room, into a local hotel to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic and better allow residents to maintain social distance from one another.

UNC Reverses Course, Goes all Online

August 17, 2020 — Barely a week after the reopening of campus and following reports that 130 students already had tested positive for COVID-19, UNC announced Monday that it was moving all classes online starting Wednesday.

“Since launching the Roadmap for Fall 2020, we have emphasized that if we were faced with the need to change plans — take an off-ramp — we would not hesitate to do so, but we have not taken this decision lightly,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin said in a news release. “We have made it in consultation with state and local health officials, Carolina’s infectious disease experts, and the UNC System.”

Restaurants Brace for the Cold

November 14, 2020 — Local restaurants are bracing for looming cold weather and the possibility of less business because of customers’ worries about dining inside during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fear is well-grounded. North Carolina has reported its highest daily count of COVID-19 cases during the past week. And Gov. Roy Cooper has extended Phase 3 of his reopening plan until Dec. 4, still limiting restaurant capacity to 50 percent.

Homeless in Chapel Hill, During a Pandemic

November 19, 2020 — Ellis Smith describes himself as a people person who believes in Jesus and loves sports, fishing and the NC State Wolfpack.

“I struggled a lot to get up in life. Alcohol and drugs have been a problem for me for a while,” Smith said.

Smith, who came to Chapel Hill after living in Raleigh for about 30 years, said he was recently kicked out of the Durham Rescue Mission shelter for using drugs and drinking. According to the most recent statistics, he is one of approximately 124 people experiencing homelessness in Orange County, with 19 of these individuals being unsheltered.

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