Think back a few weeks ago.

COVID-19 was just gaining a foothold after seven people who caught the virus outside Craven County were just starting to show symptoms.

Over the next month, another 35 people contracted the virus either from others known to have the virus, or from casual encounters out in the community — grocery shopping, dining in restaurants, attending events together, and so on.

Once health officials started tracking where people got sick, and then who they contacted after they were infected, the notifications went out.

HWY 55 most famously was the first to get wide attention after a customer was tested positive. The restaurant had to close for several days and undergo a deep cleaning. One of its employees had to go into self isolation to make sure they weren’t infected. Fortunately, they weren’t, otherwise just about everyone else working at the restaurant would have to do the same thing.

That was six weeks ago. Since that time, COVID-19 has had much more time to get established in Craven County.

Some health care experts say we don’t truly know how many contagious cases of COVID-19 there are out in the community. Some estimate that there may be 10 to 20 times the number of confirmed cases.

It is not unreasonable to estimate that 10 percent of Craven County is already infected.

The good news is that social distancing and Stay-at-Home orders have been keeping the growth rate in check. The number of recovered cases is keeping pace with the number of new cases.

The bad news is that the community is getting cabin fever and many businesses, especially startups and small, locally owned establishments, are at severe risk of collapse.

Many people have received their stimulus money, but not all (including me), and money intended to keep small businesses open was quickly tapped dry without providing much help for those businesses that most needed it.

The Craven County Board of Commissioners, which along with the health department have lagged in their efforts to prevent the spread, are now suddenly taking the lead, asking Gov. Roy Cooper to relax restrictions for Craven County because the number of cases here are so low.

Say we do get that exemption and Craven County businesses reopen before it’s time.

Let’s go back to HWY 55 (and who knows how many other businesses that were able to quietly close, scrub down, and reopen without much public attention).

That was when the virus had barely gained a foothold in the county. Now it is established, and more cases will result in a resurgent outbreak of COVID-19 in Craven County.

These small businesses will be forced to close, disinfect, and isolate staff every time a new COVID-19 patient traces back to that location. This won’t happen once, or twice. It will happen repeatedly.

Then next winter, COVID-19 season will start again, making things worse.

The measures North Carolina has taken have been working. North Carolina is smarter than Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and all the other states that are taking this pandemic lightly.

The best thing small businesses can do to get through this period, which will last months or more, is to revise their business models to accommodate the new realities.

And the best thing citizens can do is stay at home as much as possible, wash your hands frequently, wear masks in public, maintain social distancing, and be watchful for signs of infection, which are primarily sore throat, fever, and a raspy cough. If you have those symptoms, get tested and follow your doctor’s instructions.

The more we dawdle, the longer it will take to overcome this pandemic.

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