4/30/20: N.C. FLUNKS SOCIAL DISTANCING, STUDY SHOWS, BUT DARE COUNTY SCORES A ‘C.’ STATE HITS ANOTHER ONE-DAY HIGH FOR COVID-19 CASE REPORTS. (Plus, What’s Really Going On With Beach Nourishment?)

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Chicahauk homeowners send a message of gratitude to all front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

North Carolina has flunked social distancing, according to a nationwide human-mobility data study, but Dare County passed with a “C,” while Currituck County earned a “D+.”

The Tar Heel State is one of 11 states nationwide that received a failing grade in a social-distancing study by Unacast, a New York-based company that specializes in location data products. The country as a whole earned a “D.”

Unacast released its results yesterday, according to The Raleigh News and Observer.

In state news today, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported a new high for single-day reporting of new COVID-19 cases, with 561 cases being confirmed since yesterday. The NCDHHS said this increase may be due primarily to an increase in the number of tests being performed statewide.

Unacast used Smartphone data to give each state and its counties letter grades of “A” through “F” for their compliance with social distancing.

According to its website, Unacast updates states and counties daily on three different metrics of social distancing that it measures with Smartphone location data. They are:

*Percent change in average distance traveled (also called average mobility)

*Percent change in non-essential visits

*Decrease in human encounters (as measured by density)

The Beacon does not know Unacast’s precise methodology and, therefore, cannot begin to evaluate the value, if any, of its results. We pass them along to you simply as a matter of interest.

So far, in North Carolina, according to Unacast’s analysis, there has been less than a 25 percent reduction in average mobility; less than a 55 percent reduction in non-essential visits; and less than a 40 percent decline in the density of encounters compared to the national baseline.

The study did not take into account that the baseline in rural areas is much lower than in heavily populated area.

“What matters is how many people were in the same place at the same time, regardless of how much it changed from the past,” the study reported, according to The News and Observer.

Only one of 100 North Carolina’s counties received an “A” in Unacast’s study, and that was nearby Tyrrell County, which scored an “A-“. Five counties received a “B-” grade, including Camden, Perquimans, Bertie, Hyde, and Washington counties.

Not surprisingly, they are all rural counties in northeastern North Carolina.

Thirty-nine counties received an “F,” including Pasquotank County, where Elizabeth City is located. The state’s two most populated counties, Mecklenburg and Wake, each earned a “D.”

As for the other 10 states that flunked social distancing, according to Unacast, they were South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. For more on the Unacast study, see:

https://www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard?view=state&fips=37

https://www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard?view=state&fips=37

As of today, North Carolina has a total of 10,509 confirmed COVID-19 cases, based on 128,036 tests, which is roughly an 8 percent positive rate.

During the 24 hours before the NCDHHS updated its dashboard today, the results of 9,596 tests arrived, thousands more than the state agency has been accustomed to receiving. Testing statewide has ramped up.

Both Hyde County and Tyrrell County have now reported a single confirmed case of COVID-19. Only two N.C. counties have not reported cases, and they are Avery and Yancy counties in the western part of the state. Unacast gave Avery a “D+” and Yancy a “C-” for their social-distancing efforts.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH BEACH NOURISHMENT? PREP FOR TOWN COUNCIL MEETING MAY 5, 5:30 p.m., IN PITTS CENTER

 The Town Council will consider at next Tuesday’s meeting entering into a new services agreement with Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina (CPE-NC) and approving a $47,599 budget amendment to pay for some of these services during the current fiscal year 2019-20.

CPE-NC was formerly known as APTIM Coastal Planning and Engineering of N.C.

According to correspondence sent to Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett and included in the Council’s meeting packet, Ken Willson, who was formerly vice president of APTIM, is now president of CPE-NC.

In an April 29, 2020 letter, he wrote to Mr. Haskett that CPE-NC will sub-contract some of the proposed services to a new corporate entity known as Aptim Environmental & Infrastructure, LLC.

See pages 35-49 of the Council’s meeting packet for all relevant documents at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-05-05.pdf.

It appears to The Beacon that CPE-NC is seeking an additional $35,396.00 for annual beach profiling, for which the Town has already paid $45,000, and $12,202.50 for “initial permitting coordination” for a 2022 beach-nourishment project that the Town Council has yet to approve.

For background, see The Beacon’s 4/27/20 report about the Town Council’s beach-nourishment discussion at its April 21 budget workshop. We called attention in that report to this budget amendment and another upcoming budget amendment in June, neither of which was fully explained by Mr. Haskett.

At the budget meeting, Mr. Haskett responded to a question from Councilman Matt Neal about beach profiling this spring by saying that the profiling had been done, and that the $45,000 appropriated for it in this year’s budget had been spent. So why is CPE-NC asking for $35,000 more now, and why is it seeking a new contract?

Also at the budget meeting, we learned from Finance Officer Bonnie Swain that, in a “worst-case scenario,” the Town’s FY 2019-20 revenues may fall $595,048 short of what was budgeted. Mr. Neal referred to this estimate as a “middle-case scenario,” not as a worst-case scenario, and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey also said there could be a “worse” worst-case scenario.

Any budget amendment that authorizes another withdrawal from the Town’s unassigned fund balance during this uncertain financial time is not well-advised.

Included in next Tuesday’s meeting packet is an April 29, 2020 memorandum that Mr. Haskett sent to the Town Council about the $47,599 budget amendment that suggests the interim manager skipped his English classes. Certainly, he did not write the memo with easy comprehension in mind.

We quote:

“The proposed budget amendment includes the cost for annual beach profile monitoring and data collection. It also includes the cost for initial regulatory/resource agency coordination and coordination with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to obtain Geophysical and Geological (G&G) permits for offshore investigations. This part of the proposal was brought to our attention on April 28, 2020 and includes 25% of the cost for Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina, Inc. to begin agency coordination for a 2022 beach nourishment project for Southern Shores and beach nourishment projects for Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills.”

“Coordination, coordination, coordination.”

Why is Mr. Haskett not straightforwardly explaining what these monies are for?

The sentence we italicize is the verbatim language that Ken Willson used in his April 29 letter to Mr. Haskett. No town manager, interim or otherwise, should ever just parrot the techno-ese of a consultant in a public document.

The Beacon will probe the proposed contract included in the meeting packet and try to understand better what it concerns.

We are very disappointed by the Town’s lack of plain-English full disclosure to the public. We hope the new town manager will give more consideration to transparency in governmental contracts and unanticipated late-fiscal-year budget expenses.

We also trust the Town Council will dispel the confusion that the lack of full disclosure about this proposed contract and budget amendment has created.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/30/20

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