WINDSOR — The Bertie Board of Commissioners took the first steps Thursday toward implementing a shelter-in-place resolution next week.
At an emergency meeting, the board voted unanimously to have interim Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan and County Attorney Lloyd Smith work with the county’s COVID-19 task force to prepare a shelter-in-place resolution that would take effect on Monday.
After much discussion, commissioners decided to have the resolution ready for Monday, but to wait until Gov. Roy Cooper makes a public announcement on Friday.
“If we decide to move forward with the resolution, might we draft something and wait until Monday to give the governor a chance to do something, but have it prepared if he doesn’t or decides to leave the decision to the counties?” commission Chairman Ronald D. Wesson asked.
Upon receiving consent, Wesson put the statement in the form of a motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore and adopted by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner John Trent was a participant in the meeting, but could not vote because he joined via teleconference.
When the meeting began, Wesson told the board a group of people had been asked to participate. They included commissioners, members of the task force, municipal officials, Albemarle Regional Health Services and others.
“We want to get a consensus of where we are, what our next steps should be or could be,” he said. “We all have the same goal: to protect the citizens of the county.”
Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper gave an update on the county’s response to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
“We are currently trying to protect our citizens and government structure as best we can,” Cooper said. “Fire, law enforcement and EMS are functioning at full capacity.”
Cooper also praised the Bertie County’s Sheriff’s Office and 911 Communications for implementing COVID-19 protocols.
As of Thursday, the county still had three people who had confirmed cases of COVID-19, Cooper said.
Wesson commended the COVID-19 task force, Cooper and the employees of Bertie County for their diligent work during the pandemic situation.
Ashley Stoop of ARHS then provided an update in which she said there are 400,000 cases globally, including 18,000 deaths. In the United States, there are 54,000 cases, including 636 in North Carolina. The state saw its first COVID-19-related death Wednesday.
There are six total COVID-19 cases in ARHS' service area, three in Bertie, two in Hertford County, and one in Pasquotank County.
“We are definitely in the mitigation stage,” Stoop stressed. “We will continue to practice containment, but we are very much into mitigation.
She said the virus is now being “community spread” in the state.
Stoop reminded participants of the symptoms of the virus, which include fever, lower respiratory distress, cough and shortness of breath. She said there is no medicine or treatment available for COVID-19, but 80 percent of those who contract the disease will recover at home. Stoop stressed the virus is more of a concern for persons over 65 or who have underlying health issues.
Both Cooper and Stoop stressed people who are sick should stay at home, and everyone should practice social distancing. The best way to prevent spread of the disease is to wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer on clean hands, avoid toughing the ears, nose and mouth and cover the mouth when coughing.
Wesson said that during a conference call with the governor on Tuesday, Cooper indicated he was undecided about issuing a shelter in place order, but made it clear the order would cover the entire state if he issued one.
Four counties in North Carolina have already issued shelter in place resolutions, according to Smith. Those include Pitt, Mecklenburg, Wake and Orange counties.
Mitch Cooper said the shelter in place wording is misunderstood, and stressed people could still do the things they need to do.
“The biggest thing we have seen in the proclamations is they don’t allow gatherings of over 10 people, and makes (violating that) punishable by a Class 2 misdemeanor,” Cooper said.
He went on to say people could still go to work, take care of their loved ones in necessary situations, get food and get their medications.
“What it means is we are asking people to stay at home,” Cooper said.
Vaughan echoed Cooper’s thoughts.
The commissioners spent several minutes expressing concerns about making sure there was a “bullet point” sheet which would accompany any resolution making it clear what the county’s citizens were being asked to do.
Commissioner Greg Atkins said he is concerned any shelter in place resolution would have a “shelf life” after which people would ignore it. ARHS Health Director R. Battle Betts Jr. said Atkins was correct, and that was one of the issues Gov. Cooper is struggling with.
The county board also discussed the fact the county has no jurisdiction in the town limits of any incorporated area. Mayor James Peele of Powellsville and Windsor Town Administrator Allen Castelloe said the towns wanted to see the county’s path before making a decision.
Smith said any town wishing to follow the county’s order could simply adopt a resolution.
The issue of whether or not the ordinance was needed also came up. Several commissioners said they have seen people out in “normal” numbers.
Bertie County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kenny Perry said he did see people out, but it wasn’t as many as before.
Perry said he believed the ordinance would help, but thought it was important to let people know they could still jog, go fishing and other things that didn’t relate to contact with people.
As the discussion continued, Smith indicated he thought people may not be taking the situation as seriously as they should.
“I think people need to understand it’s serious, and I don’t think they do,” Smith said.
Commissioner Tammy Lee said she would like to see a way for churches to be able to meet, even if it were through the parking lot meetings some churches have had.
The shelter in place order could close nonessential businesses, but such places as Perdue would not be affected because agriculture is considered essential. Details were not discussed, and would be part of any resolution on Monday.
Commissioners said they would take all avenues to get the information they are considering to the public.