Shows a crowd of people looking at race cars in an outdoor venue
This photo from 2010 shows crowds of people attending a "pit party" at the Ace Speedway, in Alamance County. Photo credit: Mike Kalasnik, Flickr Creative Commons

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Alamance speedway ordered to close

The Alamance County speedway that has held at least three races in defiance of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting crowd sizes during the coronavirus pandemic challenged the state to take action against it.

Now the state has.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Human Services issued an abatement order against Ace Speedway, a race track in the small community of Altamahaw northwest of Burlington.

The order states that the speedway has shown its willingness to place “the public at imminent risk” and is “likely to cause an immediate threat to human life, an immediate threat of serious physical injury, [or] an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects … if no immediate action is taken.”

The action comes after William McKinney, counsel for the governor, sent a letter last week asking Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and the chairwoman of the Alamance County board of commissioners to enforce the restrictions laid out in Cooper’s executive order.

Crowds in confined outdoor spaces are limited to 25 people in the safer-at-home phase that took effect on May 22 and lasts until at least June 26.

Robert Turner and his son Jason, the speedway owners, held races with several thousand spectators in the stands on May 23, May 30 and June 6.

Few wore face coverings or sat and stood six-feet apart.

The race this past weekend was billed as a protest, an attempt to get around the order and the social distancing measures it requires.

“This event is held in peaceful protest of injustice and inequality everywhere,” a sign at the speedway gate stated.

Cooper has marched with protesters who flooded the streets seeking systemic change after George Floyd died gasping for breath under the knee of a Minnesota police officer now accused of murder. Many have worn face coverings and are moving through the streets.

The Alamance sheriff has questioned why protesting has been accepted in relation to the outrage over what happened to Floyd and the race track activity has not been sanctioned.

Johnson has refused to issue citations against the speedway so the state took the action Cooper alluded to in recent briefings with the media.

During a media briefing Tuesday afternoon, Cooper was asked why the state took action against the speedway, but not against protesters who also participated in mass gatherings.

“This particular speedway knows that the order is in existence and has flagrantly violated the order and put their customers in danger, as well as anyone who comes in contact with their customers,” Cooper said. ”Those protests have First Amendment protections, just like the ReopenNC protests that occurred in Raleigh. These protests deserve the same constitutional protection. But it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t take steps to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.”

The abatement order stresses that the speedway could open in this phase if a plan with social distancing and safety measures were presented, reviewed and accepted by state health officials.

NASCAR held races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway with no spectators in the stands after working with Mecklenburg County and state health officials.

In Alamance County, there have been 553 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. There were 228 active cases reported on Tuesday, with 21 of those people in the hospital. Thirty-one Alamance residents have died from COVID-19, according to the county health department.

State officials noted a troubling trend.

The virus spread had been slowed to a doubling time of 19.7 days by the end of May, a month in which people were largely staying at home because of the executive order governing the first three weeks.

By early June, though, after restrictions were eased the virus was spreading at a much quicker pace with a doubling time of 13.6 days.

“Across the state, North Carolinians are making huge sacrifices to protect their families and neighbors. This virus is highly contagious and very dangerous,” Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “Bad actors who flagrantly violate public health orders put all of our families and loved ones at risk.” — Anne Blythe

NC sees 10 deaths a day in long-term care, as new cases continue to appear

About 10 lives of long-term care residents have been lost per day to COVID-19 in the last 10 days, according to DHHS figures released Tuesday.

That adds up to 98 people lost since May 31, as overall North Carolina cases rose across a “reopened” state. That brought the total of deaths related to the coronavirus in nursing homes and assisted living centers to 624.

That’s 624 lives, memories and histories lost with the deaths of older people and those with disabilities. This population has died in numbers far out of proportion to totals of North Carolinians who have contracted the disease. People 65 and older account for 15 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases, but 82 percent of the deaths.

Meanwhile, several nursing homes with existing outbreaks have seen at least one more resident die during the past two weeks. That’s happened in Franklin, Harnett, Henderson, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Pasquotank and Robeson counties.

Facilities recently added to the list of nursing homes with outbreaks include Autumn Care of Shallotte, Brunswick County;  Piney Grove Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Forsyth County; Maple Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center, Guilford County; Barbour Court, Johnston County; Woodland Hill Center, Randolph County; LifeBrite Long Term Care, Stokes County; and Willow Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Wayne County.

DHHS has recently removed the following nursing homes from the list of those with outbreaks: Ayden Court Nursing and Rehabilitation, Pitt County; White Oak Manor,  Polk County; The Laurels of Salisbury, Rowan County; Village Care of King, Stokes County; and Capital Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Wake County. — Thomas Goldsmith

Contact tracers, Ace Speedway rosters and audience from elsewhere

The Alamance County health department gave Ace Speedway recommendations and precautions before the May 23 race at the Altamahaw track for how an event could be held during this phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

That list included limiting the crowd to 25 spectators, social distancing measures, disinfection and other safety promotion recommendations.

The county health department required the speedway to keep rosters of all participants, which could aid in any contact tracing if someone were to test positive for coronavirus.

“Rosters are handwritten with varying degrees of completeness, accuracy, and legibility,” Arlinda Ellison, public information officer for the county health department, said in an email statement.

Because of that, health department workers have had to manually enter all the information into a database, an effort described by Ellison as “a time-intensive and arduous process.”

On May 30, the speedway agreed to take photos of participant IDs at the entry gate, information that could be helpful to the contact tracers, but also a labor-intensive effort to get into the database.

“At this time, the Health Department has not identified a cluster of cases associated with the ACE Speedway events,” Ellison said in the email, but noted that could change as the data from more recent events is inventoried and cross-referenced with lab-confirmed cases.

One thing the health department has learned by entering the data is that many who’ve gone to the speedway are not residents of Alamance County or North Carolina. — Anne Blythe and Rose Hoban

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, listens to Governor Roy Cooper during a press briefing on the COVID-19 virus at the Emergency Operations Center on Monday, June 8, 2020 in Raleigh. Photo credit: NC Dept of Public Safety

Governor to get tested

Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters that he planned to get tested for coronavirus on Tuesday afternoon.

State public health officials encourage anyone who has been at the recent protests against police brutality and systemic racism to get a test.


Cooper met with protesters briefly outside the Executive Mansion last week amid the cries for change after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, breathed his last breath, face down on the street, hands cuffed behind his back, with the knee of a white Minnesota police officer planted firmly on his neck.

“I have no symptoms of COVID-19 and don’t expect to be positive, but since I was out there I think it’s important that I do have the test, which I’m going to do today,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he would let the public know the results. — Anne Blythe

Racial inequities in courts and impact on overall health

Gov. Roy Cooper established a task force last week to delve into the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities of color across the state.

On Tuesday, he appointed Anita Earls, an associate justice on the state Supreme Court, and Josh Stein, the state attorney general, to lead another task force to tackle issues once again exposed by the way in which George Floyd, a black man born in North Carolina in 1973, died in Minnesota.

Floyd, 46, breathed his last breath in the chokehold of a white Minnesota police officer with a knee planted firmly on his neck while he lay face down in the street with his hands cuffed behind his back.

“Last week, we talked about how COVID-19 is shining a bright light on longstanding racial inequities in everything from health care to housing,” Cooper said. “The protests reignited by the murder of George Floyd are shining yet another light on inequities in our criminal justice system.”

Medical organizations have declared racism a public health issue, and tackling the systemic racism that has plagued the criminal justice system for decades could also have an impact on the overall health of people in communities of color.

Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than white men, according to statistics released by the governor’s office. Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than white women, the statistics show.

“In our communities, African Americans are more likely to be pulled over by police and die at their hands,” Stein said. “None of this is acceptable. We have to make North Carolina a safe place for every person, no matter who you are.”

Black adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated as white adults, and Hispanic adults are 3.1 times more likely to be incarcerated as white adults.

The prisons have been hotspots for coronavirus in North Carolina, with outbreaks reported throughout the system. Five inmates have died, along with a nurse who worked in the system.

The task force plans to draw from a diverse group for members, and is slated to have a report to the governor in December.

Earls and Stein said some of the recommendations might require legislation.

“We must change how the criminal justice system operates and without delay,” Earls said. “We must eliminate the glaring racial disparities that continue to exist and we must begin to live up to our most highly cherished value of equal justice under the law. After all, we’re the state that espouses the decree: ‘To be rather than to seem.’ “— Anne Blythe

Coronavirus by the numbers

According to NCDHHS data, as of Tuesday morning:

  • 1,029 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
  • 37,160 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 774 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections on a given day and does not represent all of the North Carolinians who may have been in the hospital throughout the course of the epidemic.
  • 23,653 people who had COVID-19 are presumed to have recovered. This weekly estimate does not denote how many of the diagnosed cases in the state are still infectious.
  • More than 535,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed COVID-19 tests is likely higher.
  • Most of the cases (45 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 15 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 82 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • 177 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
  • There are 3,173 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 816 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.

Child and adult protective service workers declared first responders

The state took action this week to define workers in child and adult protective service offices as first responders.

Doing so helps the workers get access to personal protective equipment that might be necessary when they go out in the field to check on children and adults who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Organizations that help victims of domestic violence and child abuse worry that during the coronavirus pandemic some might be subject to greater danger as they’re forced to spend more time inside homes that are not safe spaces.

“Face-to-face contact is often essential for child protective services and adult protective services work,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen. “This designation will help these emergency workers have the tools they need to stay safe while continuing to serve vulnerable children, adults and families.” — Anne Blythe

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