10/23/20: BREAKING NEWS: TOWN LEARNS ITS BEACH NOURISHMENT GRANT FROM N.C. DEQ IS FOR $1.4 MILLION.

Previously advised that it had received a grant from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for its 2022 beach nourishment project, the Town of Southern Shores announced in its newsletter today that it has been notified the grant is for $1,408,247.19.

The towns of Kitty Hawk and Nags Head each received a grant in the same amount as Southern Shores, while the towns of Duck and Kill Devil Hills each received a grant of $1,450,921.35, according to a press release from N.C. DEQ, included with the Town’s newsletter article.

The grants were awarded by N.C. DEQ’s Division of Water Resources, which gave $11.5 million to eight communities in coastal North Carolina from its Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund. An individual grant could have been as high as $2.5 million.

According to the press release and a statement by N.C. DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan, the grants are to “restore our coastal areas damaged by Hurricane Florence.”

While The Beacon is pleased by the grant, we were not aware that the Southern Shores beaches experienced any long-term adverse effects from Hurricane Florence, which the National Weather Service describes as “a large and slow-moving Category One hurricane” that made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, considerably south of the Outer Banks, on Sept. 14, 2018, and caused flooding inland because of “record-breaking rainfalls.”

We well recall the devastation that flooding from Hurricane Florence caused New Bern, N.C. and other towns to the west of the Outer Banks.

See https://www.weather.gov/ilm/HurricaneFlorence

The Beacon also was not aware that the grant application filed by the Town of Southern Shores had anything to do with damage remediation associated with Florence. The Town Council approved a grant application for funding to support Option 4 of the beach nourishment plans recommended by the Town’s coastal engineering consultant, not to mitigate damage caused by Florence.

The Beacon, 10/23/20

10/23/20: 3 DARE COUNTY RESIDENTS CURRENTLY HOSPITALIZED WITH COVID-19 AS CASES CONTINUE TO INCREASE; TESTING SET NOV. 5 IN NAGS HEAD; Plus, a Word About the Council’s Budget & Planning Workshop.

Three Dare County residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19-related “complications,” according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, which reported today that a diagnostic testing event will be held in Nags Head Nov. 5 in response to the steady increase locally of positive cases.

Since Tuesday, 30 new COVID-19-positive cases have been reported in Dare County, 80 percent of them among local residents.

In addition to Tuesday’s 13 cases—a number that recalls case spikes in July—six COVID-19 cases were reported by the DCDHHS on Wednesday, four yesterday, and seven so far today, bringing the total number of cases reported since March to 667, 379 of them among Dare County residents.

The predominant means of viral transmission continues to be direct contact among family and close contacts, the DCDHHS also reported today, although “cases of unknown origin,” it said, are also on the rise.  

Two of the three people hospitalized with COVID-19 are known to be in the higher-risk 65-and-over age group. The third was originally reported to be in home isolation, but experienced a decline and had to be hospitalized.

The latter’s “status change” was reported on the DCDHHS dashboard yesterday, without an indication of the person’s age. All three are hospitalized outside of the Outer Banks.

The DCDHHS is partnering with Mako Medical Laboratories to offer drive-thru testing Nov. 5 at the Soundside Event Site, 6800 S. Croatan Hwy., in Nags Head. The starting time has not yet been announced. The testing is open to individuals age 5 and older.

You must have an appointment and be free of COVID-19 symptoms to be tested. Please call the COVID-19 call center at (252) 475-5008, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, to register. You will be asked to email photocopies of your government-issued ID card and your insurance card before the event. For further information, please see www.darenc.com/covidtesting or contact the call center.

REPORT ON TOWN COUNCIL’S BUDGET/PLANNING WORKSHOP

The Town Council approved at its Tuesday workshop raising the minimum balance required to be maintained in the Town’s unassigned fund balance, which is used for emergency purposes, such as hurricane relief, from $1.75 million to $3 million; and hiring another police officer, redesigning the Town website, and establishing a “beach fund” for beach nourishment efforts, as well as other expenses during the current 2020-21 fiscal year.

Actually, the Council took no formal votes on any of these items. We will explain in an upcoming report how its directives–which Mayor Tom Bennett repeatedly referred to as a “consensus”–were communicated.

The Council also considered a draft Capital Improvement Plan proposed by Town Manager Cliff Ogburn and showed interest, per Mr. Ogburn’s recommendation, in updating the Town’s Land Use Plan, which, although it is copyrighted 2012, is based on data compiled in 2005.

The N.C. Division of Coastal Management sent the Town’s Land Use Plan back to it with questions and concerns after it was submitted, a process that resulted in a multiyear delay.

The Beacon will do a thorough report of the Council’s workshop as soon as our time permits. As some of you may recall, the Town Council approved updating the Land Use Plan in a previous fiscal year, but a three-person majority upended that decision. The Beacon will refresh everyone’s memories in our report.

You may view a videotape of the workshop on the Town’s YouTube site at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

Generally speaking, the live-stream of the workshop was successful, except for those times when Council members–we mean you, Councilman Matt Neal–leaned back in their chairs and did not speak into their microphones.

We congratulate our new Town Manager on his superb preparation and presentation of the business on the workshop agenda.

CIIP COMMITTEE MEETING NOV. 17: The Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Pitts Center to carry out tasks assigned to it by the Town Council in the budget/planning workshop. The committee is to “redefine” its charge so as to focus strictly on street improvements and to consider a 10-year plan for prioritized street improvements and their associated expenses.

The Council also discussed changing the name of the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee—which is a mouthful that former Councilman Chris Naston created for the purpose of having the committee take up the Dogwood Trails sidewalks—to the Streets Committee, or something similar.

In other words, the committee is being defined for the first time by Council decision, instead of operating according to Mayor Tom Bennett’s wishes.

NEXT TOWN COUNCIL MEETING ON A WEDNESDAY: The next Town Council meeting will be 5:30 p.m., on Wed., Nov. 4, in the Pitts Center. The Council is observing Election Day, but, remember, the Pitts Center will not be your polling place. All Southern Shores voters must go to the Kitty Hawk Elementary School on Nov. 3 to cast their ballots.        

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/23/20

10/21/20: GOVERNOR TO ‘PAUSE’ REOPENING IN PHASE 3, LEAVING RESTRICTIONS IN PLACE; APPEALS TO LOCAL OFFICIALS TO ENHANCE VIRUS ‘PREVENTION EFFORTS,’ PUSH ENFORCEMENT.

“North Carolina will remain paused in Phase Three for the next three weeks,” Governor Roy Cooper announced at a coronavirus briefing today held in anticipation of the expiration at 5 p.m. Friday of his latest executive order that initiated the phase on Oct. 2.

His new executive order extending Phase Three without any further easing of restrictions will expire at 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, when the COVID-19 political landscape, nationally and on a state basis, may look quite different.

The Governor also spoke strongly today in support of enhancing “prevention efforts” by local officials and said that a letter from two secretaries in his administration had gone out recently to some counties statewide, encouraging them to take steps to enforce statewide COVID-19 safeguards and to toughen those safeguards, if necessary.

Local officials “could use restrictions that are greater than the State floor,” Governor Cooper said, “. . . to attack the virus specifically in their communities.”

This is a position that the Governor has long held–encouraging municipalities to act independently–but he has never been so direct in advocating for local action.

In the face of COVID-19 data that show all of the four key metrics trending upward—especially daily case reports and hospitalizations—the Governor emphasized enforcement and “working hard to bring community leaders together to take action.”

Both the Governor and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, who analyzed the latest data, attributed this month’s spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to increased “informal social gatherings” and “religious settings” in which people do not wear masks or social distance.

As they did last week, they stressed that people cannot let their guards down in get-togethers with close friends and family members with whom they do not live.  Even at home, in small parties, they said, people need to wear masks.  

“Ignoring the virus does not make it go away,” Dr. Cohen said, “just the opposite.”

In response to a reporter’s question about the role that Phase Three may have played in the rising data trends, Dr. Cohen replied first that people “are frustrated and not doing the three Ws.”

But she also acknowledged that the easing of restrictions in Phase Three is a “piece” of the current declining situation.

The letter sent to the counties came from Dr. Cohen and Erik A. Hooks, secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety, the Governor said. It suggests that local officials consider taking further prevention steps, such as using civil penalties or fines for violations of State mandates, as well as expanding upon the State’s safeguards.

Mr. Cooper advised, for example, that a municipality could lower the number of people who may gather in mass gatherings, down from the State’s currently allowed 50 outdoors and 25 indoors, or end local alcohol sales earlier than the State’s 11 p.m. curfew.

A municipality also could impose its own mask mandate, subjecting people who are in noncompliance to the risk of criminal penalty, which the State mask mandate does not do.

(UPDATE: The Raleigh News & Observer reported today that the letter went to 36 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Included among them is certainly Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, which is a hotspot for COVID-19.)

N.C. MASK MANDATE

The State’s so-called mask mandate was ordered by the Governor in Executive Order 147, which was issued June 24. It requires people to wear face coverings when they are or may be within six feet of another person in specific settings, including all retail establishments, restaurants, personal care businesses, child-care facilities, and other close-contact space, but it does not make the failure to do so a misdemeanor offense.

(In long-term care facilities and other health-care settings, the wearing of a face covering is mandatory in North Carolina—unless one of the EO’s exceptions applies—without regard to social distancing.)

The Beacon has never liked the Governor’s means of enforcement of the mask mandate because it does not make noncompliance a crime and, therefore, it compromises law-enforcement officers’ authority and restricts their options.

It was clear today from the Governor’s answers to reporters’ questions about the mask mandate’s enforcement that law-enforcement officers statewide have not actively intervened to reduce noncompliance. They generally have tolerated people’s refusal to wear masks.

It is little wonder. Under EO 147, law-enforcement officers may charge a business owner with violating the mask mandate if the owner does not ensure that his or her employees and customers wear face coverings, but officers have little recourse for dealing with a maskless customer.

EO 147 authorizes police officers to step in only after a customer is first asked to wear a face covering and refuses to do so, and then is asked to leave the premises and will not. Then the police may charge the recalcitrant customer with trespassing or another appropriate criminal violation, but not with violating the mask mandate.

The executive order specifically states: “Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to enforce the Face Covering requirements of this Executive Order against individual workers, customers, or patrons.”

Before Governor Cooper declared EO 147, Dare County had in effect a mask mandate with more teeth to it.

Dare provided in its emergency mandate for criminally charging and prosecuting individuals who did not wear face coverings. After the State imposed its mask mandate, however, the County declared the State’s order preemptive, effectively rescinding its own order.

The County chose to do take this action; it did not have to do it. Now Governor Cooper is asking those counties with COVID-19 outbreaks and deteriorating metrics to consider putting teeth into their own mask mandates and have local law enforcement enforce them.

The Governor also pointed out that “local health departments have authority to enforce safety precautions,” too.   

More effort must be made, he said, “to stem the tide that we see coming at us” with colder temperatures and more people gathering indoors.

“The virus is everywhere here in North Carolina,” said Dr. Cohen.

(UPDATE: DARE COUNTY REPORTED SIX NEW COVID-19 CASES YESTERDAY, FIVE OF THEM RESIDENTS.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/21/20

10/21/20: 13 COVID-19 CASES REPORTED IN DARE IN ONE DAY—AGAIN. ONE LOCAL WOMAN HOSPITALIZED. Plus, the Governor to Speak at 2 p.m. Today.

Take your pick: facial covering or face shield.

Thirteen more people, including 11 Dare County residents, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an unusual 7:30 p.m. update yesterday on the Dare County health department dashboard.

One of the new cases is a local woman age 65 or older who has been hospitalized.

Last night’s report was the second time in the past week that the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services has reported 13 new COVID-19 cases in a single day—evoking daily-case numbers from July. The DCDHHS also reported 13 new COVID-19 cases last Friday. (See The Beacon, 10/16/20.)

With the exception of Aug. 25, when the DCDHHS dashboard recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases, you have to go back to July to find daily case updates in the double-digits in Dare County.

On July 27, the last double-digit day in July, the DCDHHS reported 16 new COVID-19 cases—the highest single-day case total in Dare.

Just like the Oct. 16 case total, yesterday’s 13-case total was made up predominantly of Dare County residents. The recent surge in cases cannot be attributed to vacationers “bringing the virus with them.” People are clearly not abiding by the safeguards imposed by the State of North Carolina, as Governor Roy Cooper has pointed out.

The 11 residents who tested positive represent a cross section of age groups: They include three who are age 17 or younger; one, ages 18 to 24; two, ages 25 to 49; three ages 50 to 64; and two age 65 or older. Five are female, and six are male.

The two nonresidents who tested positive are men, one between the ages of 25 and 49 and the other age 65 or older.

With the exception of the woman who has been hospitalized outside of the area and the local man, ages 18 to 24, whose case was belatedly reported by the State, all of the newly diagnosed cases are in home isolation.

To quote Secretary Mandy Cohen of the Dept. of Health and Human Services: “We are moving in the wrong direction.”

STATE CORONAVIRUS BRIEFING TODAY: Governor Cooper will hold a coronavirus briefing today at 2 p.m., which you may live-stream on the UNC-TV website or watch on UNC-TV channel 3. The Governor will address the 5 p.m. Friday expiration and possible extension of Phase 3 of North Carolina’s reopening, which started Oct. 2.

At the Governor’s coronavirus briefing last week, Secretary Cohen emphasized the role that municipalities can play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and in reversing deteriorating metrics in their communities.

Dr. Cohen stressed local leadership, saying, “I want to encourage our local municipalities and others to look at their own metrics and see what is driving rates of infection in their areas and work with the community, talk to the community, be leaders in your community about how we can make sure to stop and slow the spread of this virus further.”

The Governor said he has called on retailers, law enforcement officials, public-health officials, and municipal officials to work on “how we can do more to get people to abide by the safeguards that we all have in place.”

The Beacon is dismayed that not once since the coronavirus pandemic began has Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Commission, or Dr. Sheila Davies, director of DCDHHS, held a briefing with local media. Similarly, the Southern Shores Town Council has not reached out to inform Town residents, many of whom are in the older at-risk age group, about the safety of the Outer Banks community.

How safe was last weekend’s Throwdown Surf Classic on the beach in Chicahauk that was attended by crowds of maskless people who did not social distance?

The event violated the Governor’s order against holding outdoor mass gatherings with more than 50 people. The Town is responsible for this noncompliance.

Another problem with holding an event like the throwdown is that it falsely signals a return to normalcy.

Videotaped and written updates on the DCDHHS website, which give the public scant information about COVID-19 cases locally, are a poor substitute for a press conference in which local government and public-health officials respond to questions from media representatives. The leadership that Dr. Cohen extolled last week is lacking in Dare County.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/21/20   

10/20/20: AGE 17-&-UNDER GROUP ACCOUNTS FOR MORE THAN 40 PERCENT OF LATEST COVID-19 CASES IN DARE; PLUS, A VACCINE WILL NOT BE A PANACEA.

Young people age 17 and under living in Dare County accounted for six of the 14 COVID-19 cases reported locally during the past three days. Among the Dare County resident cases, they accounted for more than 50 percent.

Just as the 13 COVID-19 cases reported last Friday by the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services skewed older, the latest cases skew younger, with none in the higher-risk 65 and older age group and only two in the 25-49 age group.

Eleven of the 13 COVID-19 cases reported from Saturday through yesterday were Dare County residents. Since March, the DCDHHS has reported 637 COVID-19 cases, 355 in Dare County residents and 282 in nonresidents.

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen has emphasized at recent press briefings that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greatest in indoor locations where people gather closely together and do not take safety precautions, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

People are “letting their guard down,” said Governor Roy Cooper in support of her message at last week’s briefing. They are coming into close unprotected contact with friends and extended family members who do not live in their households, he said.

Such contact is most likely to occur in restaurants and bars and in private residences. Any reception, party, shower, or other indoor event gathering, in which public-health protocols are not observed, is cause for concern, Dr. Cohen said.

The Governor is expected to address the extension of North Carolina’s Phase 3 in its reopening, which is set to expire at 5 p.m. Friday, at a briefing tomorrow.

With State COVID-19 data metrics, such as the number of daily case reports and hospitalizations, trending upward in October, it is unlikely that the Governor will loosen any of the current restrictions in place.

EVENTUAL COVID-19 VACCINES WILL NOT BE PANACEA

With so much loose talk politically about a COVID-19 vaccine and the time of its availability, we thought we would pass along some facts. Regardless of the nature of the vaccines that are eventually licensed, they will not be panaceas, much like seasonal influenza vaccines do not prevent all recipients from getting the flu.

There currently are four COVID-19 vaccine candidates in Phase 3 studies now. If the studies yield positive results, one of more vaccines “may become available within a few months,” write two physicians and a scientist in the article, “Answering Key Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines,” published last week by the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (JAMA).

See “Answering Key Questions about COVID-19 Vaccines,” JAMA: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2772138?utm_source=silverchair&utm_campaign=jama_network&utm_content=covid_weekly_highlights&utm_medium=email.

The authors explain that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which licenses vaccines, “set as an expectation for licensure” of a COVID-19 vaccine that it would prevent disease or decrease the severity of the disease in at least 50 percent of the people who are vaccinated.

Because of the margin of error in estimating the percentage of cases or complications prevented, they explain, a study that shows a 50 percent reduction in illness may have efficacy (effectiveness) as low as 30 percent or as high as 80 percent.

Further, it is important to understand that individuals who are more likely to experience more severe cases of COVID-19, such as older people and people with chronic illnesses, are underrepresented in vaccine trials because of the obvious risks posed to them.

It will not be possible to extrapolate the experience of subjects in the clinical trials to all people, at large. Not only will at-risk individuals not be included in most trials, but untested individuals will not necessarily have the same responses to the vaccine as individuals who were tested.

We are just scratching the scientific surface here, and we are doing so only because politicians are touting an imminent vaccine, as if it will be 100 percent effective and guaranteed safe for all people. This simply is not so.

Pfizer, which has a two-dose vaccine in Phase 3 trials, is considering applying to the FDA for “Emergency Use Authorization” of its product. “EUA” is the only way that a vaccine would be available this year—on an expedited basis in an emergency situation.

If Pfizer’s as-yet-unapproved vaccine were made available through an EUA, the FDA would be representing only that the vaccine may be effective, and its benefits are likely to outweigh its risks. There would be no proven safety and effectiveness required for this authorization, as there would be for licensure.

See “Emergency Use Authorization of Covid Vaccines—Safety and Efficacy Follow-up Considerations’ in the New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2031373?query=C19&cid=DM101106_NEJM_Registered_Users_and_InActive&bid=282344754.

The other pharmaceutical companies with vaccines in Phase 3 trials are Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. The latter two have paused their trials for safety reasons related to participants’ health. Pfizer is definitely the frontrunner.

Someone asked me not long ago if I would be willing to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

I am comfortable with mask wearing, social distancing, eating only outdoors at restaurants, restricting my time in public space, and otherwise minimizing my risk of exposure to the disease by observing well-known public-health protocols. I can work at home and have always been introverted, so I enjoy solitude. I am not now inclined to view a vaccine as a desirable add-on to my regimen.

Before I would consent to a vaccine, however, I would research the clinical trial results thoroughly for evidence of both safety and efficacy. Even then, I would be inclined to wait and see how millions of people respond to a vaccine after it is distributed widely, knowing that the responses of subjects in trials do not predict all of the responses in a vastly larger and more heterogeneous population. Wider use means a wider response. The same is true of a new drug.  

The JAMA article authors conclude: “Many individuals are hesitant about receiving COVID-19 vaccines. Reasons include the novelty and rapid development of the vaccines, as well as the politicization of the pandemic and inconsistent messages from scientists and government leaders.

“It is critical that clinicians [your primary care doctor] stay well informed about emerging data so that they can help patients make sound decisions about the vaccines needed to help end the pandemic.”

The key word here is “emerging.” Emerging data require time to emerge, something that all political candidates run out of.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/20/20

10/19/20: TOWN MANAGER TO START LONG-RANGE BUDGETARY, CAPITAL PROJECT PLANNING AT COUNCIL WORKSHOP TOMORROW. PLEASE TUNE IN: MEETING WILL BE LIVE-STREAMED, NOT ZOOMED.

A Halloween tableau on East Dogwood Trail. We will feature others in town during the next 12 days.

If you have a stake in the future of Southern Shores in terms of how its revenues will be spent, how and which of its capital improvements will be funded, and how its land-use planning will proceed, we strongly urge you to attend or live-stream the Town Council’s budget workshop tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn has designated tomorrow’s budget discussion as the first step in an FY 2021-22 budget adoption process (see p. 16 of the meeting materials) that will culminate next June.

See the meeting packet at: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-10-20.pdf

He also intends to use this forum for other key budgetary decisions, including what to do with the FY 2020-21 revenue surplus that the Town has, thanks to the large influx of vacationers who were undeterred by COVID-19, and how to start long-range planning, which the previous town manager never did.

The meeting will be live-streamed, but not Zoomed. It is open to members of the public who wear masks and practice social distancing. See the Town’s YouTube site at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

This is the second time that a Southern Shores Town Council meeting will be live-streamed, thanks to Mr. Ogburn, who has made this convenience standard procedure. The first was the Oct. 6 meeting.

If you do not attend the meeting in person and wish to comment during the one public comment period scheduled, please email your comment to Town Clerk Sheila Kane by 5 p.m. today, and either the Mayor or the Mayor Pro Tem will read it at the meeting.

Please limit your comment to three minutes’ reading time. Ms. Kane’s email address is skane@southernshores-nc.gov.

You may access the agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-10-20.pdf.

BUDGETARY PLANNING

We have had the time only to skim, not peruse, all of Mr. Ogburn’s meeting materials, but we are impressed with his work product: his preparation, his proposals, his direction, and his forward thinking. We summarize it as follows:

*The Town Manager has asked the Town Council to consider amending the FY 2020-21 budget to include items that the Council previously cut in anticipation of lost revenues due to the effects of COVID-19. These include Town building upgrades previously discussed; and street improvement projects that were postponed, such as the reconstruction of Hillcrest Drive from its intersection with Hickory Trail to the SSCA tennis courts.

A total of $1,612,102 was budgeted in FY 2020-21, and then removed by the Town Council to guard against a COVID-19 revenue shortfall, for these expenditures.

*Mr. Ogburn is seeking a discussion on new expenditures for FY 2020-21, such as those for the start of an ongoing beach nourishment fund, Town website improvements, police equipment and an additional police officer, and a gradual increase in the amount that the Town is required to maintain in the Unassigned Fund Balance, which accountant/auditor Teresa Osborne reported two weeks ago had $5,995,546 in it,  as of July 30,2020.

This is an increase of $1,822,225 over the balance in the fund as of July 30, 2019, according to Ms. Osborne.

These additional recommended expenses total $636,500, according to Mr. Ogburn’s proposed budget figures on page 14 of the meeting packet.

Mr. Ogburn already has obtained a proposal from Outer Banks Internet for a redesigned and upgraded Town website, to be operated on WordPress software, which The Beacon uses. (See pp. 17-24 of the meeting packet.)

We enthusiastically support an overhauled website and say: Thank you! It’s about time.

We also strongly support Mr. Ogburn’s idea that the minimum balance of the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, which now must be maintained with at least $1.75 million in it for emergency purposes, be increased over a period of five years to $3 million. In the first fiscal year, he proposes allocating $250,000 to the fund.

*Mr. Ogburn also proposes that the Town Council discuss at tomorrow’s workshop a potential framework for a “concerted strategic long-range planning process.” He suggests that the elected officials first take up a Capital Improvement Plan with projected spending over a five-year period. 

A “capital improvement,” according to the meeting materials compiled by Mr. Ogburn, is one with a cost of at least $5,000 and a useful life of five years or more. It is typically related to street improvements, new staff positions, real property acquisition or development, a large dollar expenditure, vehicles, etc., etc. (See p. 9 of the packet.).

Mr. Ogburn presents his draft capital improvement plan for the current fiscal year through fiscal year 2025-26 in the meeting packet on pp. 14-15. It shows the debt service due on the new fire station, as well as projections for beach nourishment funding, in the event the 2022 project costs $16,685,800.

“Development of the Capital Improvement Plan is intended to ensure that decision makers are responsible to residents and businesses of the Town with respect to the expenditure of public funds,” Mr. Ogburn writes. “The CIP also promotes the delivery of continuous efficient services. It is an actual plan that lays out a budget for and a schedule of municipal expenditures. . . . ”

Here, here.

“Without accurately and adequately preparing for future expenditures,” he continues, “communities are left to implement improvements based on emergencies or surprises.”

We will stop here and let Mr. Ogburn himself pick up tomorrow.

We congratulate our new town manager for doing the heavy lifting on long-range Town planning and budgeting that should have been done years ago. He is the proverbial breath of fresh air in an environment that has been stale for too long.

Please give him an audience and share with him your opinions and ideas.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/19/20

10/16/20: DARE REPORTS 13 NEW COVID-19 CASES TODAY, HIGHEST NUMBER SINCE JULY 27; NINE OF 13 ARE LOCALS.

Dare County reported 13 new COVID-19 cases today at 4:15 p.m. on its health department dashboard—45 minutes after The Beacon posted its 3:30 p.m. blog about North Carolina breaking its single-day case record high, set yesterday, with 2,684 today.

With the exception of Aug. 25, when the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases, you have to go back to July to find daily case updates in Dare in the double-digits.

On July 27, the last double-digit day in July, the DCDHHS reported 16 new COVID-19 cases—the highest single-day total ever in Dare, also notable because 15 of the 16 cases were nonresidents.

Of today’s 13 new cases, nine are Dare County residents, and four are nonresidents.

The 13 cases are primarily clustered in the older age groups, with five of the people testing positive for COVID-19 being between ages 50-64 and six people being age 65 or older. Four of the over-65 cases are Dare County residents.

The remaining two people who tested positive are a male resident, ages 18-24, who is isolating outside of Dare County; and a female resident age 17 or under. 

All 13 people are in isolation: Four of the nonresidents are isolating in Dare County.  

Today’s injection of 13 cases brings Dare County’s total number of COVID-19 positive cases to 623: 344 residents and 279 nonresidents.

See The Beacon’s previous post for information about the drive-thru COVID-19 testing event to be held next Tuesday in Buxton.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/16/20

10/16/20: NC HITS ANOTHER COVID-19 RECORD HIGH WITH 2,684 CASES; DARE SCHEDULES DRIVE-THRU TESTING TUESDAY IN BUXTON.

The Governor would like you to take your pick, although No. 12 offers the least protection to others.

North Carolina health departments reported a total of 2,684 new COVID-19 cases during the past 24 hours, thereby setting a new single-day record that broke yesterday’s new single-day record by 152 cases.

The shock of yesterday’s 2,532 new COVID-19 cases has already worn off, replaced by the sense that we may only be witnessing the beginning of a steeply upward trend.

For the past 11 days, more than 1,000 people have been hospitalized daily across the state for COVID-19. This is with 96 percent of hospitals reporting, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

N.C. daily hospitalization totals of more than 1,000 were common in July and August, but, since Aug. 26, hospitalizations have been consistently under 1,000—until Oct. 5, which was the Monday after the first weekend of Phase 3 in North Carolina.

Governor Roy Cooper initiated Phase 3 of North Carolina’s reopening at 5 p.m. on Oct. 2, lifting restrictions—but imposing capacity limits and other safeguards—on movie theaters, indoor conference and entertainment facilities, and indoor and outdoor event venues in which crowds of spectators gather. 

The initiation of Phase 2.5 on Sept. 4 did not correlate with an uptick statewide in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, even though fitness centers, physical activity facilities, and museums were allowed to reopen at limited capacity, and mass gathering capacity limits were increased.

Both the Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen have spoken in their recent coronavirus briefings about people “letting down their guard.”

Will a rollback to Phase 2.5 be necessary to convince North Carolinians to raise their guard again? How about a rollback to Phase 2? Is a rollback even an option, considering what the Governor described yesterday as people’s “weariness and frustration”?

As of today, 3,910 North Carolinians have died because of COVID-19, according to the NCDHHS dashboard.

DARE COUNTY TO HOLD DRIVE-THRU TESTING EVENT

Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 15, Dare County averaged a daily total of 2.8 new COVID-19 cases, including both residents and nonresidents. In the past four days, however, the case reports have trended upward, with an average daily total of 5.25 cases.

Since Monday—not including today’s total, which had not been posted as of 3:30 p.m.—15 Dare County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, including three who are age 65 or older. No one has been hospitalized.

Dare County and its partner, Mako Medical Laboratories of Raleigh, have scheduled a drive-thru COVID-19 testing event on Hatteras Island next Tuesday, starting at 10:30 a.m., for permanent Dare residents age 5 or older.

The event will be held at the Cape Hatteras Elementary School at 47500 Middle Ridge Road in Buxton.

To be tested, you must register for an appointment by calling (252) 475-5008, between 8:30a.m. and 5 p.m., M-F. You will be required to email a photocopy of a government-issued ID card and an insurance card before the event.

Insured participants will not incur any out-of-pocket cost. All insurance plans fully cover the COVID-19 diagnostic test, including Medicaid and Medicare, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Mako Labs will use the COVID-19 Relief Fund to cover the cost of testing uninsured participants.

The DCDHHS will call you within 72 hours of your test with the results.

This diagnostic testing is only for asymptomatic people. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, the DCDHHS advises you to call your physician.

For more information on testing sites in Dare County, please visit darenc.com/covidtesting.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/16/20

10/15/20: ON A RECORD HIGH DAY FOR COVID-19 CASES, GOVERNOR HAS A SINGULAR MESSAGE: WEAR A MASK; ‘ABIDE’ BY THE VIRUS SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE.

North Carolina’s “highest one-day record” today of 2,532 new COVID-19 cases did not induce Governor Roy Cooper to change at his afternoon coronavirus briefing the message he has given at every other such briefing for months or to bolster the safeguards he has already put in place to prevent the virus’s spread.

Next week, he said, he will “look at the science and the data over a 14-day period . . . [and] make a decision about Phase 3 extension.” Phase 3 is set to expire at 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Next week, he will consider whether his recent loosening of restrictions on movie theaters, amusement parks, and other venues that had been closed has contributed to the recent upward trends of all of the State’s COVID-19 metrics, including: the number of people presenting to emergency departments with COVID-like symptoms, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and the percent positive rates.

Today, the Governor just wanted to stress one word during his 40-minute briefing with Secretary Mandy Cohen of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and that word was mask, as in North Carolinians need to “pull together,” “be responsible,” and “wear a mask.”

If they do, he said, they can “drive [the] numbers down.”

“The science is clear on masks: They work,” Dr. Cohen said emphatically, after detailing State data on COVID-19 that show, “We are moving in the wrong direction.”

The Secretary asked everyone to wear a mask “when you are with people you don’t live with,” including extended family and close friends.

“We cannot let weariness and frustration win out,” the Governor said, also advising people to wear masks when they “are with friends, extended family, or just running into the store for a second.”

The Governor exhorted North Carolinians to be “even more vigilant,” now that “we’ve seen higher numbers,” in exercising precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding crowds.

“Complacency will cost lives,” he said, “and hurt our economy.”

Addressing the reason for the upward trends in all of the metrics, Secretary Cohen said she could not pinpoint “one place, one age group, or one type of activity.” 

There is “not one geographic area or industry to blame,” Governor Cooper observed.

Asked by a reporter whether the virus might be changing and intensifying, Secretary Cohen said it was not and had not, but that the virus “likes” the lower temperatures and lower rates of humidity that we have now.

Both are “more conducive for the virus to spread,” she said.

Dr. Cohen also reiterated that there is “more chance for viral spread indoors,” and people are increasingly moving indoors with the cooler weather.

Room ventilation, she said in response to another reporter’s question, “can be an important factor,” but she stressed that “it is only one component that we need to think about.”

The Secretary would rather “avoid virus particles getting into the air to begin with,” and that starts with people wearing masks.

Dr. Cohen also revealed in her update that she has received “numerous reports from [local] health departments of people refusing to share contact information.” She encouraged people to cooperate, pointing out that all information is private.

Pressed about this lack of communication by a reporter later, Dr. Cohen said that “about half of the folks [being contacted] are not responding to calls,” thus significantly hindering contact tracing statewide.

When a reporter from Dunn, N.C., tried to pin Dr. Cohen down on the number of people in North Carolina who had died from COVID-19 and were under the age of 65 or lacking an underlying condition, she demurred on a figure, referring him to the NCDHHS dashboard, which records deaths and breaks them down by age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors.

The reporter said a U.S. Congressman Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s eighth U.S. congressional district, had told him that only 52 people under the age of 65 had died from COVID-19. The eighth district encompasses a large portion of the southern Piedmont area.

Secretary Cohen disputed this contention and pointed out that “Nearly half of adults in North Carolina have an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness” from COVID-19.

Governor Cooper had an even better rejoinder, which he has used before.

“Having a preexisting condition or being over the age of 65 shouldn’t be a death sentence,” he said.

(Another reporter who posed a subsequent question said that the NCDHHS dashboard shows that “hundreds” of North Carolinians under the age of 65 have died of COVID-19, but we have been unable to confirm this. If anyone can locate on the dashboard the demographic breakdown of the people who have died, please email us at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com. This information once was readily available, but not so anymore. Posted 10/16/20.)

In other news, the Governor announced that renters in need of assistance with paying their rent and utilities may now apply to the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program for financial support. The eligibility requirements and an application for a grant from HOPE, which has a $117 million fund, are available at nc211.org/hope.

Governor Cooper also reported that the State would submit to federal officials tomorrow its plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. At-risk people, such as first responders and residents of nursing homes, will be given priority to receive the “limited supply of vaccine” that will be available at first, the Governor and the Secretary confirmed.

Dr. Cohen noted that a number of vaccines are currently in clinical trials, but no manufacturer has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for vaccine approval yet.

No mention was made of the White House Coronavirus Task Force having put North Carolina in the red zone of COVID-19 risk, as we reported in a post earlier today.

(This article was revised 10/16/20.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20

10/15/20: GOVERNOR TO SPEAK ABOUT COVID-19 TODAY AT 3 P.M. AFTER STATE RECORDS HIGHEST SINGLE-DAY CASE INCREASE EVER, ENTERS RISK ‘RED ZONE.’

Governor Roy Cooper will hold a coronavirus briefing today at 3 p.m., after today’s N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard reported the State’s highest single-day new-case total ever at 2,532, and the White House Coronavirus Task Force put North Carolina back in the COVID-19 risk “red zone” for its rising number of cases this month.

North Carolina was last in the red zone in early September, during a brief case spike, but it has been in the orange zone since then.

There are currently 26 states in the red zone, which means that they have experienced 100 new cases daily per 100,000 residents during the past week.

See https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/states-in-red-zone-for-coronavirus-cases-grow-to-26/

In rapid-fire online research, we learned that the orange zone is defined as 10 to 25 new cases daily per 100,000 residents and that there are two other zones below the orange zone: yellow (one to nine new cases per 100,000) and green (fewer than one case per 100,000). (We will sort this out further after the Governor’s press conference.)

Total daily cases in North Carolina during the past seven days are reportedly 8 percent higher than the previous seven days—reaching peaks that were last seen in July.

The Beacon has calculated case increases daily in North Carolina since early May and can vouch for today’s total being the State’s highest, with the exception of two days when special circumstances bumped up the totals (Aug. 29 and Sept. 25).

You may live-stream the Governor’s briefing at: https://www.unctv.org/watch/live-stream/eoc/?utm_source=leaderboard&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=EMWCopper; or watch it on UNC-TV, channel 3.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20