By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors is asking the governor to keep Accomack County at its current level of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic for two more weeks, as he did for Northern Virginia.
The vote, at a special board meeting Wednesday, was 5 to 4.
Virginia is set to enter Phase One of recovery, which eases some restrictions on businesses and individuals, on Friday.
Five Accomack supervisors — Chairperson C. Reneta Major, Ron Wolff, Vanessa Johnson, Billy Joe Tarr, and Donald L. Hart Jr., who also is Accomack’s emergency services director — favored getting more data specific to the county before allowing it to enter Phase One.
County Administrator Michael Mason said the data — using the same metrics Gov. Ralph Northam cited as evidence the state was ready to begin reopening — has been requested but not yet received.
Those include a downward trend of positive tests and hospitalizations over a 14-day period; increased testing and tracing; enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity; and a sustainable supply of personal protective equipment.
Available information at present includes that 1.6% of Accomack’s population has tested positive for the virus.
Additionally, preliminary results from a community testing event at Eastern Shore Community College last weekend included 37 positive tests, or 3.51%, out of 1,054 results received to date, with additional results pending.
Information from testing at two poultry plants last week is not included in the current case count.
Accomack is in the highest category of rate per 100,000 population for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, Mason told the board.
“It concerns me to go ahead and open and we don’t have all the numbers yet,” Hart said, adding that by May 28, “we would have all the numbers.”
Johnson said she has received many calls from constitutents who have lost loved ones, been quarantined, or otherwise been negatively affected by the virus.
“I feel that lives matter,” she said.
“The numbers I see right now, there’s no way I could support any type of movement,” Major said, noting she has family members and sorority sisters who have tested positive.
Four supervisors — Robert Crockett, Harris Phillips, Jackie Phillips, and Paul Muhly — supported having the county enter Phase One on Friday along with the rest of the state, and to issue an advisory statement to residents to remain vigilant.
The minority argued that Northampton County and Chincoteague both will enter Phase One Friday, putting Accomack businesses at a disadvantage.
“People are just going to go to Northampton to get their hair cut,” said Harris Phillips.
“We have people who could go back to work and do it safely,” Jackie Phillips said.
Crockett said the changes in Phase One are “a very small move” and would benefit the county.
With continuing uncertainty as to the pandemic’s progress, some organizations in the county already are cancelling events this summer.
Wachapreague Volunteer Fire Company announced this week it will not hold its annual Firemen’s Carnival, scheduled for June, due to concerns about the pandemic.
“This was not an easy decision for us, as our company has operated the carnival for the last 68 years,” a press release said.
The carnival is the fire company’s primary fundraiser.
Additionally, Eastern Shore Community College is making alternative plans for summer classes.
The earliest on-campus classes at Virginia community colleges will be permitted to resume is June 11, and it could be later, according to a press release.
Gov. Northam’s Phase One reopening directive does not include higher education.
The college will customize instruction for each student for classes that had been scheduled to meet on campus.
Classes will be conducted remotely, but “students will have access to live instruction and support from their teachers every week,” said Patrick Tompkins, vice president for academic, student, and workforce programs.
Live instruction and support will be tailored to students’ access to technology and may include online meetings, chat, telephone, apps, and other means, he said.
Classes in healthcare and microbiology will resume some onsite instruction when permitted by the governor and in conditions that meet CDC standards of safety.
The college also offers completely online classes.
For more information, visit www.es.vccs.edu, email [email protected], or call 757-789-1720.
Chincoteague officials announced plans for gradually reopening the town starting Friday, May 15, in accordance with Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order 61, implementing Phase One of easing restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.
Several related announcements are posted on the town website, https://chincoteague-va.gov/corona-virus-updates/
The town as of Tuesday has had five confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 41 residents tested.
Chincoteague as of Friday will allow accommodations — including hotels, motels, rental agencies, campgrounds, and AirBnBs — to open at 25% capacity.
By May 22, lodgings may operate at 50% capacity, and by May 29 they may operate at full capacity.
An increase in positive cases in town “will trigger a reevaluation of these opening guidelines,” according to the announcement.
The town also released detailed guidelines for restaurants, campgrounds, hotels and motels, rental agencies, and non-essential retail businesses.
Restaurants may seat customers outside only and continue takeout and delivery options, following Northam’s directive.
Pools and hot tubs at lodgings will remain closed, and the beach is open only for fishing and exercise, with limited parking and services, including “none to limited bathroom facilities.”
Yard and garage sales are prohibited until further notice.
Additional guidelines include: everyone entering any business must wear a face covering; all public restrooms remain closed; and the town office remains closed.
“The safe and successful reopening of the Island is totally dependent on adherence to these guidelines. To remain open requires the cooperation of everyone,” the announcement said.
The town previously cancelled its Easter Decoy Show in April and the annual Seafood Festival in May due to the pandemic.
No announcement has been made yet about the annual Pony Penning, which happens in late July.