4/8/20: GOVERNOR EXPECTED TO SET LIMITS SOON ON NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN STORES. DARE COUNTY SUED BY 6 NON-RESIDENT PROPERTY OWNERS. Town Council Delays Budget Workshop.

TraderJoe
Customers line up outside a Trader Joe’s in Raleigh. The popular food market is permitting only 40 people in the store at one time. (photo courtesy of The Raleigh News & Observer)

[Breaking news: Today’s Dare County Emergency Management Bulletin addresses the County’s ongoing preparedness efforts and the medical “surge” capacity across the state. See https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6101/1483.]

Governor Roy Cooper announced plans yesterday to issue an executive order later this week to limit the number of people allowed in stores at one time.

“We are preparing an executive order to put more guardrails on social distancing at our essential retailers,” the Governor said at a news conference yesterday. “I know many stores have already put limits on how many people can be in stores at once, and this order will ensure those limits are mandatory across the state.”

[The Walmart in Kitty Hawk reportedly began controlling customer entry and space between customers inside the store last weekend. But when I drove past the Walmart last Saturday, I was shocked by the number of people in the parking lot. It might as well have been a summer Saturday. The nearby Harris Teeter parking lot was also teeming with traffic and people. People need to consider shopping at “off” times.]

The Governor also said that the current statewide stay-at-home order, which is in place until April 29, has been effective in limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

While Governor Cooper said the state must prepare to move gradually back toward re-opening society, he also deemed it too early to do so and would not project when such action might occur. The virus is not controlled enough yet to do so, he said.

A predictive model by scientists from the University of North Carolina and Duke University that was made public Monday projected that if the stay-at-home order is extended beyond April, the number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina could be capped at 250,000. If the order is lifted at the end of April, however, the model forecasts that the case count could grow to 750,000.

The model is not the official product of either UNC-CH or Duke, but of individual scientists, who developed it with the help of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, NoviSci, and RTI International, in addition to the universities. You may read more about this forecast, and find a link to the report itself, on The Raleigh News & Observer website at

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article241797076.html

Among the mandatory restrictions that Governor Cooper is considering for crowd control in supermarkets and other big retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, is making foot traffic in store aisles run like one-way streets to avoid interactions; marking floors with tape so people will stand at least six feet away from each other when they are waiting in lines; and adding plexiglass barriers to protect employees at check-out areas.

“We need to make [such restrictions] more uniform,” the Governor said.

To learn more about the reaction of Trader Joe’s employees nationwide to the restrictions, or lack thereof, taken by their employer to protect them during the COVID-19 crisis, see

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/trader-joe-s-employees-say-virus-response-was-haphazard-and-chaotic/ar-BB12jozJ?ocid=msedgdhp; and

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/06/supermarket-workers-deaths-coronavirus-/

There have been reports of deaths among supermarket workers, who have been veritable first responders, during the COVID-19 emergency.

DARE COUNTY SUED BY 6 NON-RESIDENT PROPERTY OWNERS

Six non-resident Dare County property owners reportedly sued Dare County yesterday in federal court, claiming their constitutional rights were violated when the County issued its March 20 emergency order preventing them from accessing their properties.

OBX Today first reported on the litigation yesterday. See https://www.obxtoday.com/top-stories/outer-banks-property-owners-file-federal-suit-challenging-restrictions-to-their-homes/?fbclid=IwAR07zYlNTqNo-BCnXtPXImMO-6MN8CG6Ktzwv3U9BxdbVRYMFZ6xGFen7So

The six plaintiffs—three from Virginia, one from South Carolina, and two from Maryland—do not seek monetary damages. They seek immediate access to their properties. Raleigh attorney S.C. Kitchen is reportedly representing all of the plaintiffs.

The two plaintiffs from Maryland are a married couple who, according to OBX Today, rent their properties–one of which, The Beacon discovered, is located in Southern Shores.

Research on the Dare County GIS website reveals that the Maryland couple own a multi-million-dollar oceanfront home on Second Avenue in Southern Shores, as well as two million-dollar homes in Duck.

According to the N.C. State Bar member directory, there is only one S.C. Kitchen practicing law in North Carolina, and he is Sidney C. Kitchen with the two-person law office of Kitchen & Turrentine, PLLC. See https://www.ktlawnc.com/

Mr. Kitchen, who is known as Chuck, served as county attorney for Durham and Alamance counties before he entered private practice. The Beacon wonders how he identified these six non-resident property owners, but not enough to probe the question further by calling him.

The Beacon ventured into constitutional law on 4/4/20 when we featured an opinion column written by two attorneys with doctorates in health policy that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In their article, “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally—the U.S. Response to Covid-19,” the authors address “major weaknesses” in the United States’ “federalist system of public health governance, which divides powers among the federal, state and local governments.”

Because there has been no national strategy on responding to the COVID-19 threat, states and localities have been at the front lines of the response, the authors write, and—not surprisingly—they have exercised their public-health powers “unevenly.”

There is no question that in “extraordinary times,” such as we are experiencing now, states and the federal government can “activate emergency powers to expand their ability to act swiftly to protect human life and health,” they write, and these powers can infringe upon individuals’ civil liberties.

Usually the fear of emergency-activated restrictions, they continue, is that government officials—typically, at the federal and state levels, not at the county level—will over-react and impose unduly coercive measures.

The authors give as an example N.J. Governor Chris Christie’s decision to order a nurse returning from Sierra Leone into quarantine during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, even though her case did not merit it under the CDC’s guidelines.

Could the public-health and public-safety objectives that Dare County sought to achieve on March 20, and continues to seek to achieve today, be met through less restrictive means than a wholesale closure of the county to all nonresident property owners? That is a fair question to ask and for the Dare County Control Group to consider.

(The Beacon may write more about the continued exclusion of non-resident property owners during the COVID-19 emergency in an upcoming column.)

TOWN COUNCIL DELAYS CONSIDERATION OF BUDGET MATTERS 

The Southern Shores Town Council postponed its consideration of the budget workshop business it had scheduled to take up at its meeting yesterday afternoon until April 21, when the Council is expected to meet by electronic conferencing, exclusively.

While The Beacon agrees with this decision, we wish the Town had made it a week ago.

Yesterday, a quorum comprised of Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilmen Jim Conners and Leo Holland convened at the Pitts Center, while Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Councilman Matt Neal participated in the meeting by Zoom videoconferencing. (The Beacon enjoyed hearing Mr. Neal’s children’s voices in the background and seeing his empty chair on one occasion.)

Interim Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett, Town Attorney Ben Gallop, Finance and Human Resources Director Bonnie Swain, and Town Clerk Sheila Kane attended the meeting in person. All participants observed six-foot physical distancing.

The Beacon knows of residents who were unable to access the meeting through Zoom and believes the Town staff could do a better job of explaining how to download the software and then maneuver within Zoom once a meeting has started. We hope step-by-step instructions will be posted on the Town website before the next videoconference.

We joined the meeting via Zoom, as well as by telephone, and can report that the entire 70-minute meeting was audible on the telephone–albeit at a long-distance charge.

It was quite clear to us that those people who spoke remotely—including two non-resident Southern Shores property owners who objected to the Dare County access restrictions—had previous experience with Zoom. We did not.

The Beacon will report in more detail tomorrow on a few of the items that came up at the meeting, but, generally speaking, we do not find yesterday’s Council business to merit much coverage in light of all that is happening. We also believe the Council should postpone its April 21 budget workshop until mid-May, at the earliest.

The budget workshop business that was delayed includes:

  • Town pay study
  • Beach nourishment
  • SSVFD radios and possible budget amendment
  • Potential no-left-turn weekends
  • Capital street projects
  • RFQ and/or extension-town engineer contract expires June 30, 2020

If the Town Council goes ahead with its electronic meeting, we would urge members to make only those decisions that are essential to make now and not try to predict the immediate or distant future of the town’s or the county’s economy.

A videotape of yesterday’s meeting is already online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JnhfT87RAY&feature=youtu.be.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/8/20

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