As Most Stay Home, Essential Workers Still Make The Commute
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's statewide stay-at-home order is now in effect. But for people deemed "essential workers" during the coronavirus outbreak, the daily commute goes on. They work at technology companies and banks, takeout restaurants and construction sites, and most say they're comfortable with the situation.
Bus and train drivers are still at it, too. On Monday, the 6:55 a.m. express bus from Davidson to uptown Charlotte was running late as the driver adjusted a new route and schedule.
"This is my first time doing this part," she said. "I'm trying to read and go at the same time."
Charlotte Area Transit System has cut bus and train service by about 50% but has made all rides free. With so many people working and taking classes from home, ridership is way down. After a couple of stops in Cornelius, only four people were scattered far apart on this bus as it turns onto Interstate 77 toward uptown.
"Well, you can see there's not a lot of people on it... I'm very comfortable with it. It's very convenient for me," said Ronnie Hawes.
Hawes was headed to his job at a bank call center. He says he's comfortable working in the office and thinks it's safe right now.
"They've got hand sanitizer at every desk. Hand sanitizer is all over the building. Everybody's work space is plenty far apart from one another. They're doing a lot to help us," Hawes said. "I just - like everybody else - hope this gets over soon and everybody makes the best out of it."
Another rider on the express bus is Preston, who didn't want to give his last name. He works at a network communications company uptown.
"I'm high risk, but I take care of myself. I try my hardest, I take my temperature every day. If I feel anything, I let my boss know. But until then, there's almost no one in uptown anyway," he said. "You'll see. It's pretty dead."
Uptown A Ghost Town
He's right. As the bus exited the highway at what should have been peak morning rush hour, uptown was a ghost town. There were very few cars and plenty of parking - if you needed it. The bus dropped us on Third Street, and I headed over to the Convention Center station on the Lynx Blue Line.
After a few minutes, a train arrived, and I climbed on board. There were about 20 people in my car - about one-third full. One thing that's different about the train - some people were wearing masks or had scarves wrapped tightly around their faces - even though it was 60 degrees out.
Raymond Wall was going to work at a Popeye's chicken restaurant on South Boulevard. He said he's doing his best to stay safe on the train, but mostly, he can't wait for the virus to be gone.
"I hope this will be ending soon, so we can go back to our normal days," Wall said. "I want to go on vacation, but we can't, because of the virus."
For others, the virus-induced economic slowdown means less work. Jermaine Hammond was taking the train back home after being turned away for a day-labor job on the construction site where he has been working. He said the economy is on his mind, not the coronavirus.
"I'm not scared, I'm not worried about it. So, you know, I'm just living my life until all this is over with," Hammond said. "Yeah, I'm worried - about having money in my pocket to get through all of this."
I left Jermaine the platform at the Charlotte Transportation Center uptown and walked up to the square at Trade and Tryon streets. Instead of being packed with cars as usual at rush hour, it was deserted. The main sounds out here were a fountain and the groaning of a backhoe working on the Gold Line extension on East Trade Street.
There was no parade of office workers today, though a few people were out here: a colorfully dressed man asking for money, a worker cleaning tables on the sidewalk outside Bank of America headquarters and security guards - lots of them.
Steel Burkett stopped as he was about to cross the street. He was walking to his job at a bank foreign exchange department.
"I understand why some people have to still go (to work). And at this point, I feel like it's gotten safer, right, as far as everybody not coming in the city anymore," he said.
Burkett is preparing for this to go on for a while. He said he has a bad feeling the pandemic will get worse before it gets better.
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