Eleven weeks ago, on March 13th, I signed a State of Emergency declaration for Hillsborough due to the threat of COVID-19. Ten days later, I gave my first State of the Town address as mayor in an empty room, with only virtual connections to neighbors and constituents. Scarcely what I expected at a celebratory swearing in back in early December.
In the nearly three months since, our town and community have transitioned from the immediate emergency situation to management of an ongoing crisis. The ripple effects of COVID-19 are many, and their magnitude still unknown. We are very much still in the middle of a pandemic — not at the end — and the situation remains serious.
I would like to share how the town is working to do its job despite the circumstances, what is cause for hope and optimism, and what positive role you can continue to play.
I first want to express my endless thanks to our town staff and volunteers who are working so hard to ensure continuity of town services, as well as doing our part to protect and restore public health, economic viability, and community vitality.
Town employees are largely working remotely, wherever possible. IT support worked hard to get everyone set up with what they needed to work off campus in incredibly short fashion, including making sure computers were cyber secure.
Remote working is not possible, of course, for many essential town services. Our solid waste is still picked up, and the public works team figured out early on a way to work in team blocks, so that if one person were to get sick with the virus, only their team would need to self-isolate, rather than the whole department. Water and sewer service is still being provided, and our police department is still providing public safety including regular patrols in all parts of our community.
Economic development, planning, and public spaces staff have continued to keep a fast pace in this ever-changing situation as they problem solve how and when to hold public meetings; how to keep our sidewalks, parks, and Riverwalk safe, but still useable; and how to coordinate with our local businesses to be flexible on some regulations and brainstorm how to best support those businesses through this time.
After cancelling our March meetings, the Board of Commissioners has now met three times, all remotely, focusing on key items that are essential for town functioning. We will continue to meet remotely for the foreseeable future and have important items coming up, including a public hearing on the budget. The July joint planning public hearing includes items that are likely to generate a lot of interest. Please visit the town website (www.hillsboroughnc.gov) or call the Town Clerk at (919) 296-9441 to find out how you can participate in these meetings.
Hillsborough is not an island. There is a great deal of coordination happening both among the town management staff and with the other local jurisdictions about how to plan for and carry out recovery. Working with each other, being on the same page, and creative problem solving are essential for getting our broader community back on its feet. The economic impact on both the local economy and local government is profound. It will be a long road to navigate, but I know together we can do it. Indeed, together is the only way.
What gives us hope
Last week, I had the pleasure of being a guest for the now-daily virtual happy hour with the good folks at Yonder Bar. Lana asked me near the end (paraphrasing) “How do we know we’re going to be okay? Tell us something to give us hope.”
What a great question. As I answered, a flurry of thoughts ran through my mind: my neighbor Ellen fostering a dog named Pip whose humans had to fly home to Australia as the pandemic shut down the borders and they couldn’t take their pup; my friend Robbyn whose family continues to do community service in the form of yardwork, muddy, wearing face coverings, and finding the joy in helping others; the Hillsborough Hospitality Help fund, which has raised over $20,000 (and still collecting!) for laid off and below-hours service workers in our community. And of course of Yonder itself, run by good-humored, hard working people who are still keeping people connected even while they worry about how their business will survive.
The answer I came to landed in love. What we have in common is our love for Hillsborough and our community, its land and its people, and our commitment to this community is what will see us through to the other side. This is the town that kept the local hardware store alive after multiple big box stores located here. This is the town that supported a local book store opening in the midst of a recession and that store thriving as other independent bookstores across the country closed. This is a place where people help each other and look out for each other, where multiple people offer to buy groceries for people like my mom so that they don’t have to go into the store; where people share their extra seedlings to help each other start their new gardens. The list goes on, and I’m sure you have many examples of your own.
what is important
Physical distance, social solidarity.
Even as we are necessarily physically apart — and that very much remains essential — our social connection and solidarity lies in caring for each other by taking the precautions that will help our community stay as healthy as possible by slowing the spread of Covid 19. This means wearing our cloth face coverings when we go out and cannot be physically distant and any time we are inside with others not in our household. This means washing our hands every time we leave or return home. This means being diligent about that physical distance of at least 6 feet apart. We are each taking a risk every time we leave the house, so let’s each minimize that risk every time. This is how we protect each other, and how we need to know our neighbors are protecting us, especially our most vulnerable community members.
Though our state is moving through a gradual reopening, we cannot be complacent or act as if we are back to business as usual. We are still in the midst of a pandemic that can leave debilitating heart, lung, and kidney damage even for those who recover, and is deadly when left to spread unchecked. It is our duty as a community to check it — to do everything we can to avoid having to go backward. We must count on each other.
Your town is here for you, Hillsborough. Let us know what you need, and let’s all be there for each other.