‘I still haven’t become me again’: Q&A with Mayor Pam Hemminger

Amid a record rise in post-holiday cases, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger tested positive for COVID-19. The Daily Tar Heel spoke with Hemminger about the steps Chapel Hill management aims to take to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, his personal experience with COVID-19 and his hopes for the new year.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: What steps can Chapel Hill take to stop the new wave of COVID-19?

Mayor Pam Hemminger: The best step is to educate people about wearing the mask differently now, as we learn that KN-95 and surgical masks are much better than wearing a cloth mask.

DTH: In a November news release, Orange County said it would extend the term of the indoor public mask and it would be reassessed in mid-January. Given the current wave, what masking and social distancing protocols would you like to see extended or changed?

pH: We want to keep the indoor mask mandate. We would like to modify it to help people understand how to wear better masks.

Mental health is also an issue now. People need to go out and do normal things, but it’s winter so it’s a little harder to do those things outside. As I tell others, we are going to have to learn to live with this virus.

DTH: Orange County has the highest vaccination rate of any county in North Carolina, with about 75% having had primary shots. How do you convince the remaining 25% to get vaccinated?

pH: We have tried everything to get people vaccinated. We have made every effort to express your safety, the safety of others, and not to overwhelm the healthcare system.

The recovery is going well in our county, and I think it’s just a matter of supply, time and will. We’re going to see that number of vaccinations increase because kids are getting those boosters.

DTH: What does testing availability look like in the Chapel Hill area?

pH: It was hard. There is a shortage, and we cannot say, “go to one of our neighboring counties, they have a surplus of supply”. We try to tell people that they have to make an appointment to take these tests.

DTH: How is returning students to the UNC campus changing the pandemic situation at Chapel Hill?

pH: Some people tend to panic when the number of students increases. The way I tell them to be careful is not to go out and frequent places where students are if that’s your primary concern, making it difficult for downtown businesses.

The students did a good job getting vaccinated. We are really proud of them for that, and I know they will continue to be challenged. They too want to defeat this virus.

DTH: What is Chapel Hill’s plan to recover loss of transit service because of the pandemic?

pH: We’ve raised the pay, we’ve done a signing bonus, we’ve structured the schedules, we’ve recruited from places where we’ve had good workers before, and we’ll continue to do those things to try to get people to work.

DTH: Several Franklin Street restaurant owners said sidewalk dining has helped them stay afloat during the pandemic. With the extended sidewalks removed from East Franklin Street earlier this year, what is the plan for sidewalk seating and extended sidewalks in the future?

pH: We’re excited about the restaurant expansion, but it hasn’t been as successful on East Franklin. But the western end, we will keep it. We are in discussion with the [N.C. Department of Transportation] to get back on the road so that we can continue to make it work the way we would like to make it work.

DTH: What has been your personal experience with COVID-19? Has your experience changed your view of the pandemic?

pH: It was frustrating and I felt a bit embarrassed that I had contracted COVID because I’m one of those people telling people to be careful.

You don’t see it coming. It becomes very real and you realize how much you can’t work, how low energy you have and how it takes over your whole body. I’ve had the flu before and I’ve been sick before, but it’s been three weeks already and I still haven’t felt like myself again.

DTH: Where do you hope Chapel Hill will be with regards to COVID-19 at the end of 2022?

pH: We are ready to thrive. We have learned so much from COVID. We’ve learned what our community likes and wants, we’ve learned how our businesses succeed, we have better conversations, we do things differently, and we focus more on collaboration rather than individual survival.

I see our community emerging stronger. I see us as resilient because we believe in science. I see us working towards an outcome that involves everyone, not just certain people.


@DTHCityState | [email protected]

To get the day’s news and headlines delivered to your inbox every morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Previous Crystal Clinic Opens New Hospital and Passes 2,000 Procedures Milestone | Health
Next AfriForum approaches court to challenge DBE's decision not to publish matrix results