1/14/21: GOVERNOR OPENS UP COVID-19 VACCINATIONS TO ALL PEOPLE AGE 65 OR OLDER.

North Carolina will make COVID-19 vaccines available to anyone age 65 or older, Governor Roy Cooper told county commissioners this morning, according to a breaking news report in The Raleigh News & Observer.

The change in the state’s phased system for distributing the vaccine conforms to a change in federal guidelines announced Tuesday by Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services—just two hours before the Governor held his latest COVID-19 update briefing in Raleigh.

Governor Cooper expressed frustration at his briefing with the federal government’s shifting advice “on what the priorities of the vaccine should be,” but told reporters he would evaluate the new recommendation with his public-health advisers and make a decision. He has made it.

According to media reports, Mr. Azar said Tuesday that vaccinating everyone age 65 or older would speed up the vaccination process nationwide, which has been lagging. Medical experts believe the acceleration will further the goal of herd immunity to the coronavirus, which many say requires up to 80 percent of the population to be vaccinated.

Mr. Azar also announced that the U.S. government would ship all of the vaccine it currently has on hand, rather than holding back some for the second doses that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require.

The Trump Administration’s policy previously had been to withhold vaccine to ensure the availability of second doses, in the event manufacturing problems occurred.

President-elect Joe Biden recently announced that, upon his inauguration, he would order the shipment of all vaccine on-hand, contending, as Mr. Azar did Tuesday, that vaccine production has become reliable enough that second doses could be shipped directly from manufacturers to the states.

To implement this change in the N.C. vaccination system, the county health departments, including Dare County’s Dept. of Health and Human Services, will have to ramp up. But first, the State will have to ramp up its distribution system. We would expect DCDHHS Director Sheila Davies to address how Dare will manage this new directive soon. Stay tuned.

According to today’s N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services vaccine dashboard, Dare County had vaccinated 1,461 people with first doses and 192 people with first and second doses, as of yesterday at 11:59 p.m.

(Yes, we’re still on break, but we thought this announcement and news yesterday of another Dare County resident’s death due to COVID-19 were worthy of our making exceptions.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/14/21

1/13/21: 7TH DARE COUNTY RESIDENT DIES OF COVID-19.

A seventh Dare County resident has died of COVID-19, according to a dashboard update tonight by the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, which also reported 55 new COVID-19 cases.

The DCDHHS provided no identifying or circumstantial details about the person who died, although it would appear from the dashboard that he or she was not hospitalized. For the past five days, 12 Dare County residents have been reported as hospitalized, the last one being a woman age 65 or older who was admitted on Jan. 9.

Of the 55 new COVID-19 cases reported today, 39 are Dare County residents, and 16 are nonresidents. Varying widely in age and representing all age groups, the 55 people are in home isolation.

The Beacon extends its sincere condolences to the loved ones of the person who lost his or her life.

The Beacon, 1/13/21

1/11/21: TOWN COUNCIL SETS JAN. 19 MORNING WORKSHOP FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE ON BEACH NOURISHMENT PROJECT DESIGN AND COST, MSD BOUNDARIES. Plus a Report on COVID-19 Super Strains.

The Southern Shores oceanfront in the wintertime.

Consultant Ken Willson of Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina (CPE-NC) will discuss the results of his firm’s recent Southern Shores beach survey/monitoring and give a briefing on the design and cost of the Town’s planned 2022 beach nourishment project at a Town Council workshop meeting Jan. 19 at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center.

The meeting agenda also shows that the Town Council will discuss the boundaries of proposed municipal service districts that would be drawn for the purpose of imposing a higher tax burden on some Southern Shores property owners than on others for beach nourishment.

For the agenda, see Town of Southern Shores (southernshores-nc.gov)

For a report about Dare County’s financial contribution to the Southern Shores project, as well as to other towns’ projects, and proactive suggestions by the Nags Head Board of Commissioners for identifying other sources of beach nourishment funding than just the County and local property taxpayers, see The Beacon, 1/10/21.

The Beacon is taking a week off and will resume publication on Monday, Jan. 18, at which time we will report on information in the Council’s Jan. 19 meeting packet.

Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday.

The following two town meetings are also scheduled to be held in the Pitts Center next week:

Tues., Jan. 19, TOWN PLANNING BOARD MEETING, 5:30 p.m.

The Planning Board, which has not met for months, will begin its final review of consultant CodeWright’s rewrite/update of the Southern Shores Town Code. According to the Town’s meeting notice, the five-member Board will review the following revised Town Code chapters: ch. 4, definitions; ch. 22, zoning; ch. 26, subdivisions; and ch. 28, flood damage prevention.

Thurs., Jan. 21, TOWN STREETS COMMITTEE, 2 p.m.

The Streets Committee, formerly known as the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee, has not released a meeting agenda. The committee is co-chaired by Town Councilmen Matt Neal and Jim Conners.

All three of the meetings next week are open to the public, subject to COVID-19 safety protocols, but only the Town Council meeting will be live-streamed on You Tube.

See https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

The Town Council will hear public comments, which may be presented in person or submitted by email in advance to info@southernshores-nc.gov. Please indicate “public comments” in your subject line.

The Planning Board and Streets Committee also may hear public comments, but neither is required by formal rule or policy to do so.

COVID-19 ROUNDUP: SUPER STRAINS AT THE U.S. GATES

We promised a roundup on COVID-19 today before our break, but we have little local and state news to report.

Both the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported lower numbers of new COVID-19 today than in the past week—which is in line with Monday trends.

The results of COVID-19 tests are ready within 24 hours, and Monday dashboard reports are usually the lowest of the week.

After reporting a record-high 75 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, the Dare County DHHS reported just 11 cases today, 10 residents and one nonresident.

The NCDHHS reported 5,936 new COVID-19 cases today—two days after reporting a record-high 11,581 cases—and 3,843 hospitalizations, an increase of 69 over yesterday.

Eleven more people in North Carolina died of COVID-19 during the most recent 24-hour period, bringing total fatalities to 7,578. 

Because the coronavirus has infected so many millions of people around the world, it has had more opportunity to mutate, and it is adapting to become better at infecting people. It has seized a competitive advantage, you might say.

No doubt you have read about the new “super strains” that are reportedly 50 percent more infectious than the first variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

According to www.webmd.com and other news sources, the super strain from the United Kingdom is already in the United States, and the highly contagious strain from South Africa could be on its way.

The so-called U.K. variant has been detected in Colorado, California, Georgia, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health projected last week that as the new strains “take hold in the United States,” according to WebMD, “they could cause an additional 10 million new infections by the end of February and as many as 150,000 more deaths.”

See New COVID ‘Super Strains’ Could Disrupt Life Again (webmd.com)

Viruses mutate all of the time, but that does not necessarily mean that they become more harmful. Because of its pervasiveness, however, experts believe the first SARS-CoV-2 virus variant mutated in order to outperform other viruses around it.

Both the U.K. strain and the South Africa super strain have the same mutation on their spike proteins, but each strain developed the mutation independently, according to scientific reports.

The spike proteins on the virus attach to ACE2 receptors on human cells in order to cause infection. This receptor is the virus’s portal or door, if you will, into the body.

ACE2 stands for angiotensin-converting enzyme, and the receptors are essentially proteins on the surfaces of many cell types, including those in the lungs and heart.

The coronavirus’s increased potency is a good reason for stricter measures to control its spread, such as those cited in NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen’s recent Secretarial Directive, which stresses staying at home except for essential activities, limiting contact with people outside of one’s household, and always wearing a mask indoors when in the presence of people outside of one’s household.

From what we read, experts believe that the approved COVID-19 vaccines will work against the super strains, but pharmaceutical companies are running clinical tests now to make sure. Preliminary results are encouraging.

The vaccines will not help, however, if they are not made more widely available, more quickly.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control COVID Data Tracker, North Carolina had received as of Jan. 11 820,825 doses of vaccine, but only 211,572 first doses had been administered to people. See CDC COVID Data Tracker

The NCDHHS vaccine dashboard shows 151,902 first doses having been administered to people as of Jan. 8, with 9,115 people having received both doses. The dashboard reports 946 first doses having been given in Dare County. The DCDHHS held another vaccination event yesterday in Kill Devil Hills whose numbers would not be included in this accounting.

We also remain interested in the health status of people infected with COVID-19 who are “long haulers,” i.e., people who experience symptoms weeks or months after they have “recovered.”

The most common long-COVID symptoms are reportedly extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive confusion (“brain fog”).

Some major institutions nationwide, including Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital, have established COVID-19 survivors clinics to study long haulers and to treat them.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/11/21; updated, 1/12/21  

1/10/21: DARE REPORTS 75 NEW COVID-19 CASES FOR NEW SINGLE-DAY RECORD HIGH.

Seventy-five new COVID-19 cases were reported today on the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard, a new single-day record high.

Forty-seven of the 75 cases are Dare County residents, and 28 are nonresidents.

Yesterday the DCDHHS reported that a local woman age 65+ had been hospitalized for COVID-19.

The State of North Carolina set a new record on Saturday when the Dept. of Health and Human Services reported 11,581 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period.

Hospitalizations declined slightly statewide to 3,774 today, while COVID-19-related deaths climbed to 7,567.

We will post a COVID-19 roundup tomorrow before taking a week off to attend to other business.

The Beacon, 1/10/21

1/10/21: OUTTEN SAYS DARE WILL ‘REDUCE’ EACH TOWN’S FUNDING FOR BEACH NOURISHMENT IN ORDER TO CONTRIBUTE TO NEW SOUTHERN SHORES, AVON PROJECTS; NAGS HEAD BOARD CHALLENGES COUNTY’S FUNDING EFFORTS, BRAINSTORMS OTHERS.

Beach nourishment in Kitty Hawk.

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten made the rounds of town council meetings last week to inform officials about how he proposes the County allocate its funds to their towns’ upcoming beach nourishment projects, and only one governing board expressed an independent judgment and questioned Mr. Outten’s methods.

We would like to thank the commissioners of Nags Head for their probing analysis of Mr. Outten’s proposal and their proactive suggestion that beach nourishment funding should be developed on a county-wide basis, with all of the towns working together. 

In their discussion, the Nags Head commissioners emphasized finding more money from new sources in order to continue maintaining all of Dare County’s beaches. 

The Duck Town Council also expressed concern about funding for beach nourishment “down the road,” as Mayor Pro Tem Monica Thibodeau put it, but it did not brainstorm where and how more money might be identified.

Mr. Outten told elected officials that the County plans to reduce by about $1.4 million its contribution to each town’s beach (re)nourishment project in order to have enough money to fund two first-time nourishment projects in Southern Shores and the unincorporated community of Avon on Hatteras Island. Each town recently received a State grant in the amount of about $1.4 million.

“There isn’t enough money” in the Dare County Beach Nourishment Fund (BNF) “to do both projects,” Mr. Outten said, unless the County “reduces the funding to each town by the [N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality] grant.”

According to Mr. Outten, the BNF, which is funded by one-third of the occupancy taxes the County collects, currently has an “excess” of $8.5 million in it. (The occupancy tax is 6 percent.)

By “reducing” the funding that Dare County would have given to Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head for their upcoming beach-maintenance projects by $1.4 million each, the County can add about $7 million to its available excess.

If this plan is approved by the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) at its Jan. 19 meeting, Southern Shores can expect to receive about $7 million up-front from Dare County, and an annual contribution of $750,000 to its bond debt service, according to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn.

Mr. Outten visited the governing boards of Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, Nags Head, and Duck last week, and gave them all essentially the same presentation, which he said at the start of his remarks he had discussed with the mayors in a recent conference call.

The County Manager will visit the Kill Devil Hills Town Council tomorrow, when it meets at 6 p.m.

Because the live-stream feed from the Southern Shores Town Council meeting last Tuesday was virtually inaudible—the voices were low, and a persistent hum further drowned them out—we viewed the videotapes of the Kitty Hawk, Duck, and Nags Head meetings to learn what we had missed.

We base this report/commentary on remarks that Mr. Outten made during these meetings, as well as the response he received. We will not attribute them to any particular town presentation, however, unless it is relevant to do so.

We were able to discern from the livestream of the Southern Shores meeting at the time that it occurred that Town Council members asked few questions of Mr. Outten, and none seemed to push back like some of the Nags Head commissioners did.

Nags Head had planned to apply its $1.4 million grant to a 2022 Hurricane Dorian damage-repair project.

After Mr. Outten’s presentation, Nags Head Mayor Pro Tem Michael Siers, a realtor® with Howard Hanna, said that the County was “taking” the town’s Dorian grant money, and also suggested that Mr. Outten “readjust” or “redevelop” his funding model so that it benefits all of Dare County as it is today, not as it was when the model was developed 10 years ago for Nags Head.

Mr. Outten replied that Nags Head’s NCDEQ grant was not designated for Hurricane Dorian damage repair, but was designated generally for beach nourishment, and the grant simply replaces a portion of what Dare County would have given the town. 

As for his funding model, Mr. Outten told Mr. Siers, “If there’s a better way to do this, we’d love to hear it. Our goal is to take care of the beaches of Dare County, as a whole. And if there’s a better way to do it, we want to do it.”

Mr. Ogburn assures us that the interference problem with the live You Tube feed will be resolved by the Town Council’s Jan. 19 meeting, when the Town’s coastal engineering consultant will be discussing “the results of the recent beach survey/monitoring report, as well as briefing [the Council] on the design of the 2022 project.”

We finally may find out at this meeting how much Southern Shores’ beach nourishment project is going to cost.

REDUCTION IN COUNTY FUNDS FOR TOWN PROJECTS

Mr. Outten last appeared before the Southern Shores Town Council on Nov. 6, 2019; he was accompanied by Dare County BOC Chairman Bob Woodard. The County Manager said then that the BNF had an excess of $7.5 million in unallocated funds.

In order to “put sand on the beaches in Dare County,” Mr. Outten said in 2019 and again last week, the County reserves BNF monies to ensure that “maintenance is carried going forward” on all projects that it funds and that it secures one year’s worth of debt service.

The $8.5 million excess is money over and above these costs.

The good news is that the BNF excess has grown by $1 million in 14 months. The bad news is, and has been for a while, that two applicants are vying for this funding: Southern Shores and Avon.

The Avon project was in the picture in 2019 well before Mr. Outten first spoke to the Southern Shores Council. (See The Beacon’s reports on 11/8/19 and 11/9/19 for background.)

As the County Manager explained in 2019 to the Council and again last week, Avon is in a “critical situation” with ocean overwash during storms that takes out N.C. Hwy. 12, its only means of access, and with oceanfront houses in danger of falling into the ocean.

In response to a question from Ms. Thibodeau, Mr. Outten said that Avon’s beach nourishment, “as a stand-alone project, would cost about the same as” the Southern Shores project, which has been estimated to cost between $14 and $16 million.

If the Avon project is done in 2022 contemporaneously with a Buxton renourishment project, it would cost about $11 million, he said.

The County Manager told Duck officials that Southern Shores is “proactively doing” beach nourishment. He did not characterize Southern Shores’ need as “dire,” as he did Avon’s.

Although Mr. Outten at no time ever committed Dare County to paying for 50 percent of the costs of Southern Shores’ 2022 beach nourishment, the Town’s financial consultants persistently referred in public presentations to the County’s contribution being 50 percent and members of the current and immediately preceding town councils also publicly assumed this level of contribution.

We regret that we could not hear the remarks made last Tuesday by Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Jim Conners, both of whom are carryover members from 2019. During public comments in 2019-20, we persistently corrected the 50-percent assumption made by both.

Assuming that the County funds both Southern Shores and Avon as it has proposed, and projecting the County’s funding model out to 2028, Mr. Outten said the BNF’s excess funds are likely to be around $5 million.

“The fund doesn’t grow as much as it once did,” he said.

THE NAGS HEAD BOARD STEPS UP  

A year ago, Mayor Pro Tem Siers said, Mr. Outten visited the Nags Head commissioners in their meeting room and showed no interest in their suggestion that the beach towns “come together as a county” and try to develop a cost-effective county-wide beach nourishment plan that would allow them to “hit the hot spots as needed.”

Last week Mr. Siers pointedly challenged the County Manager’s funding “plan” as being outdated and in need of being “readjusted” in order to “move forward” in a way that “benefits the whole county.”

It seemed to us upon listening to their exchange that Mr. Siers, whose arguments were buttressed by his fellow commissioners, and Mr. Outten were talking at cross-purposes with each other.

While Mr. Outten focused on how to divide up the money in the BNF, Mr. Siers focused on “where you’re gathering the money from” and on the “urgency” that exists in 2021 to do beach nourishment that did not exist in 2011, when Nags Head did the first project on the Outer Banks, and none of the other towns was interested. 

Although the County Manager said he had consulted with Dare’s “legislative delegation” about new “funding sources,” he did not elaborate upon these discussions. He told the Duck Town Council that “No one has been successful in creating a recurring beach nourishment fund” at the State level.

“Have you run a study on a one-cent sales tax increase or other ways of coming up with this money,” instead of taxing oceanfront property owners? asked Mr. Siers, who later mentioned raising the occupancy tax rate.

According to Mr. Outten, “oceanside” property owners in Avon will have to pay 40 cents more per $100 of property value, and other property owners in the Hatteras Island community will face a 10-cent tax increase—figures that Mr. Siers balked at as “detrimental to the residents,” especially the 40-cent increase.

(Mr. Outten did not speculate on the property tax increase in Southern Shores for its beach nourishment, when asked at the Duck meeting.)

In a similar vein, when informed about the County’s funding reduction, Duck Councilman Sandy Williams said: “We’re not getting money to reduce [the tax burden] on our MSDs [municipal service districts].” This view contrasted with Mr. Outten’s blunt comment to the Kitty Hawk Town Council that, because of the County’s reduction, taxpayers are going to “swallow a pretty significant tax increase.”

In response to Mr. Siers’s inquiry about the sales tax, Mr. Outten recalled the failed experience with the 1 percent sales tax increase—also known as a “sand tax”—that was enacted in 2005.

This tax—which the Dare County Commissioners imposed after receiving the N.C. General Assembly’s approval—was to exist for eight years, but it was overwhelmingly repealed by voters in a February 2006 referendum.

At the time the occupancy tax was 5 percent. It has been 6 percent since 2014. (Both Mr. Siers and Nags Head Commissioner Renee Cahoon, whose family has a long history in the rental business, commented that county occupancy taxes are declining as, according to Ms. Cahoon, “more houses come out of the rental market.”)

To reference this grass-roots protest that occurred 15 years ago, long before any Dare County town had performed beach nourishment, much less ALL of the towns and portions of unincorporated Dare County had done it, is to live in the past, as Mr. Siers suggested. Apples and oranges.

We vividly recall the sand-tax experience, including the “Beach Huggers” who opposed the tax. Most locals at the time thought the federal or state government should pay for maintenance of the Outer Banks’ public beaches, not consumers, including themselves.

Only Nags Head was even considering beach nourishment 15 years ago, and its inaugural project five years later had a $36 million price tag.

All of the Nags Head commissioners endorsed the idea of talking to their state legislators about increasing funding for beach nourishment through taxation or other means.

“We need a readily available source of money,” said Nags Head Commissioner Webb Fuller, a former interim town manager in Southern Shores, who also advocated for “equitable distribution” of the funds that the County has.

He suggested that “a formula” be developed that would “provide a degree of certainty as to how much money each [town or] area would receive.”

Mr. Fuller also proposed the formation of a “working group” of local “technical” professionals to consider “equitable distribution of what we have,” as well as “financial opportunities that we could pursue.”

Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon said he would try to schedule a gathering of the other town mayors to discuss beach-nourishment funding. This mayors’ meeting cannot happen too soon. It is already years too late.  

Duck Mayor Don Kingston noted that beach maintenance is among the legislative lobbying targets of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, which has defined the creation of a “permanent and adequate funding stream for local infrastructure needs,” including beaches, as a top goal. All of the towns are members of the League and are participating in its legislative goal-defining process.

That the State of North Carolina does not have “skin in the game”—a phrase invoked by Mr. Outten and many elected officials to describe the investment risked by the County and the towns in beach nourishment—is shocking, considering how much it profits from the tourism-dependent coastal economy.

Perhaps with momentum generated by the Nags Head Board of Commissioners, this unjust situation will finally change. Beach nourishment is not just a one-time event; it is a perpetual commitment.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/10/21

1/8/21: SSCA OFFERS MEMBERS FREE TRIAL ACCESS TO ONLINE UNIVERSITY LECTURES, CLASSES. And The Winner of the Holiday Lights Contest Is . . .

181 South Dogwood Trail

The Southern Shores Civic Assn. has partnered with One Day University, which offers a video library of lectures you can stream, as well as live-stream classes in which you can participate, to give all SSCA members free membership to One Day U.’s online learning resources in January-February.

One Day University has worked with professors nationwide for the past 12 years to develop “entertaining versions of their best lectures,” according to its website.

It purports to have more than 200 lectures in its video library, covering history, politics, law, medicine, science, psychology and the arts, among other fields of academic inquiry.

Near the end of the two-month period, according to SSCA President Rod McCaughey, the Civic Assn. will “reach out and poll the membership about continuing the One Day University program.”

If enough SSCA members express interest in continuing, One Day U. will offer each member a reduced fee negotiated by the SSCA of $1.00/month for the remainder of 2021.

The usual One Day U. membership fee is $7.95/month, Mr. McCaughey said in an email sent today to SSCA members. 

To begin your free two-month trial access to One Day University, simply follow these steps:

  1. Go to onedayu.com/ssca.
  2. Click the START TODAY button.
  3. Enter ssca-go in the Coupon Code field and click the arrow to the right of the coupon box to apply the coupon. (You should see the monthly cost change to zero. If this does not occur, double-check to ensure that you have entered the code correctly and then click the “apply the coupon” arrow again.)
  4. Click the PROCEED TO CHECKOUT button.
  5. Enter your information and click SIGN UP NOW.

With COVID-19 preventing us from gathering in person for educational programs, One Day University helps to fill a need that many of us have for lifelong learning. We thank the SSCA for making this generous opportunity available.

In other SSCA news . . .  Emily Gould, SSCA’s volunteer/social coordinator, announced yesterday the results of the holiday lights contest.

First place went to 181 South Dogwood Trail; second place to 16 Seventh Ave.; and third place to 136 High Dune Loop.

Ms. Gould said that the SSCA received 157 votes for the contest, in which 38 house displays were entered and included on a driving tour.

The Beacon, 1/8/21

1/8/21: ONLINE PETITION DEMANDS ELECTED DARE OFFICIALS, DCDHHS ACTIVELY ENFORCE GOVERNOR’S COVID-19 ORDERS. Plus State Tops 10,000 New Cases Again; The Beacon Considers What Municipalities, Health Depts. Legally Can Do.

Governor Cooper has repeatedly sought assistance from municipalities and local health departments in his fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

A grass-roots petition seeking to compel elected Dare County government officials and the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services to do more to enforce Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19 is now circulating online through change.org. You may access it here:

http://chng.it/67xHTMBBhh

Organizers are seeking 5,000 signatures on their petition. As of this writing, 2,628 people have signed in support of the petition’s list of 12 demands, which includes the demand that the DCDHHS “police” restaurants and other businesses for masking and physical-distancing violations and “apply meaningful consequences to those that don’t or won’t comply.”

The other demands speak more generally to enactment of “reasonable, consistent, and enforceable regulations” to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Dare County and to protect public health and safety.

The DCDHHS has reported 305 new COVID-19 cases since the first of the year, including a single-day record high of 73 cases on Jan. 2, and one death, bringing the number of Dare County residents who have died of the coronavirus to six.

According to N.C. public health officials, the crush of new cases attributable to Christmas holiday gatherings has not yet been registered on local health department dashboards.

Again today, as yesterday, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period. Today’s NCDHHS dashboard shows 10,028 new cases, as well as 3,960 hospitalizations statewide, and 7,328 deaths. The positivity rate was 13.5 percent.

The change.org petition alleges that local leaders have put economic considerations ahead of local citizens’ health, accusing them of “outright capitulation” to the tourist economy and vacationers’ dollars by “allowing COVID-19 to flourish in Dare County.” 

The “local citizenry,” the petition states, “has the right to demand better leadership by our elected representatives at the state and local levels. We have not seen evidence of that. Sadly, it seems our leaders are in hiding during an emergency.”

We do not recall hearing from Bob Woodard, Chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, since June 22, 2020, when he announced a local mask mandate in a videotaped message.

Certainly, neither Mr. Woodard nor Dr. Davies has held a COVID-19 briefing and responded to media inquiries—an omission that we consider a major failing.

In contrast, Governor Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, NCDHHS Secretary, held more than 110 COVID-19 briefings last year.

We publicize the petition as a matter of public information. We cannot confirm or deny the facts alleged by the organizers–such as the description of the fourth of Dare County’s six COVID-19 fatalities as a 48-year-old man who was a United Parcel Service delivery driver. We simply do not have the resources to vet this petition.

While we believe the language petition is too inflammatory, we also well understand the anger and frustration underlying it. We expressed our own passions earlier this week in response to the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol.

We agree with challenges by the petition organizers to Dare County leadership to take more action to protect the public from COVID-19 or to explain publicly why it has not.

At briefings last fall, Governor Cooper encouraged local government officials to enact civil penalties (e.g., fines) to enforce his COVID-19 orders.

On Dec. 11, 2020, the Governor wrote to local government officials requesting their assistance, attaching an advisory opinion from the N.C. Attorney General’s Office concluding that municipalities have the legal authority to adopt ordinances that would impose civil penalties for noncompliance.

See the Governor’s letter: Governors-Civil-Penalties-Letter.pdf (unc.edu)

To our knowledge, only the Town of Nags Head has considered adopting local ordinances to impose civil sanctions for violations of the Governor’s executive orders; the Board of Commissioners concluded that it did not have the legal authority to do so.

Certainly, the Town Council of Southern Shores never publicly entertained such action.

The restrictions in the Governor’s executive orders can be enforced criminally through arrest and prosecution, if local law enforcement officers choose to exercise their discretion and act.

The Dare County leadership, including the Dare Control Group, could exhort police, as a matter of policy, to enforce the orders aggressively. The District Attorney’s Office also could take a stand.  

The Beacon has learned that there is legal disagreement as to whether municipalities have the authority to enact ordinances for civil sanctions.

While the Attorney General’s Office advised the Governor that they do, the University of North Carolina School of Government reached a different conclusion:

N.C. Dept. of Justice opinion: Local-COVID-Ordinances-Advisory-Letter.pdf (unc.edu)

School Of Government: Civil Penalties for Violations of State Emergency Orders? – Coates’ Canons Coates’ Canons (unc.edu) 

LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT AND HEALTH BOARD ACTIONS

Of more interest to us are the actions that the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, whose board has rulemaking authority, may take.

All potential health department actions are addressed by an attorney with the UNC School of Government in a Dec. 2, 2020 blog post. See Taking Local Action to Control COVID-19: What Can a North Carolina Local Health Department Do? – Coates’ Canons Coates’ Canons (unc.edu).

According to attorney Jill Moore, who also has a Masters in public health, local health directors, such as the DCDHHS’s Dr. Davies, have the “authority to issue isolation or quarantine orders, the authority to enforce the North Carolina communicable disease laws through the use of criminal or civil remedies, and the authority to abate imminent hazards.”

Ms. Moore thoroughly discusses the use of each of these “tools.” A person who violates an isolation or quarantine order issued under the authority of N.C. General Statutes (NCGS) 130A-145, for example, may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.

This type of order is distinct from a mere instruction from the DCDHHS that an individual self-isolate or self-quarantine. Dr. Davies has referred to this power in her COVID-19 updates, but has given no indication as to whether she invoked it.

As for Dr. Davies’s enforcement of State statutes pertaining to “communicable diseases,” Ms. Moore states that local health directors are responsible for ensuring that communicable disease control measures are “given.” This is NCGS 130A-144(e).

As a practical matter, she writes, “this may simply mean ensuring that people are informed about the control measures they are required to comply with.”

But, she continues, “If a person who has been informed violates a required control measure, the misdemeanor remedy appears to be available to enforce it.”

An “imminent hazard,” she writes, is a “situation that is likely to cause an immediate threat to human life, an immediate threat of serious physical injury, an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects, or a serious risk of irreparable damage to the environment if no immediate action is taken.” This is language from NCGS sec. 130A-2(3).

If Dr. Davies were to determine that such a hazard exists, she could order the “owner, lessee, operator, or other person in charge of the property” where the hazard exists to abate it. Abatement can include temporary closure of the property.

Most intriguing to us is the rulemaking authority of the DCDHHS Board, which “is comprised of members selected by the Dare County Board of Commissioners,” according to the DCDHHS website.

There are 16 members of the DCDHHS Board, including:

*Tim Shearin, Chairman (Community-at-Large)

*Kevin Phillips, Vice Chairman (Pharmacist)

*Nick Kiousis (Community-at-Large)

*Christian Lige, M.D. (Physician)

*James Woodson, DDS (Dentist)

*L’Tanya Murray (Community-at-Large)

*Daniel Jones, OD (Optometrist)

*Alexis Hodges (Nurse)

*David Ryan, PE (Engineer)

*Mark Grossman (Veterinarian)

*Ashley Jackson (Community-at-Large)

*Ervin Bateman (Board of Commissioners)

*Wally Overman (Community-at-Large)

*Janine Sewell (Community-at-Large)

*Kay White (Community-at-Large)

*Chris Roberts (Social Worker)

See Our Board | Dare County, NC (darenc.com)

A local board of health “has the authority to adopt rules that are necessary to protect and promote public health within its jurisdiction,” according to Ms. Moore, citing NCGS sec. 130A-39.

To be valid, she observes, a local board of health rule must:

*Be related to the promotion or protection of health;

*Be reasonable in light of the health risk addressed;

*Not violate any law or constitutional provision;

*Not be discriminatory, and

*Not make distinctions based upon policy concerns traditionally reserved for legislative bodies.

Further, a local health rule must be more stringent than a state regulation on the same subject matter, which we believe would be a challenge in rulemaking for COVID-19 control.

If this standard were met, however, the violator of a local board of health rule could be charged with a misdemeanor or the local health director could seek injunctive relief.

We have thrown a lot of “legalese” at you today, and we have not had the time to digest it ourselves. We conclude our legal discussion with Ms. Moore’s conclusion:

“Local boards of health are charged with protecting and promoting public health in the jurisdictions they serve. . . . This suggests that local boards of health should be engaged and active partners in monitoring COVID-19 within their communities and promoting responses that ensure the public health, regardless of whether they also exercise their rule-making authority.”

We would like to know what the DCDHHS Board of Health has done during the pandemic. We have seen no public-information releases by this body.

The change.org petition is seeking “monitoring” by the DCDHHS that goes far beyond just posting the numbers of new COVID-19 cases locally. The organizers are seeking active local enforcement, just as Governor Cooper has requested for months now.

When asked at the Wednesday COVID-19 briefing whether he might impose more stringer restrictions, the Governor said, “All options are on the table.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/8/21

1/8/21: COVID-19 VACCINATIONS: One Southern Shores Couple’s Experience. Plus Word of Petition to Compel Action from Dare BOC.

Ursula and Bob Bateman of Southern Shores continue to do well, experiencing no adverse effects, more than 40 hours after they were vaccinated Wednesday with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Thomas A. Baum Senior Center in Kill Devil Hills.

Mr. Bateman played tennis yesterday. Mrs. Bateman said she feels a little stiffness when she raises her vaccination arm, but no pain at the injection site. The vaccination itself, she said, “was nothing.” Like a pin prick.

Thanks to Mrs. Bateman, who inquired of medical personnel at the vaccination event, The Beacon reported on Wednesday afternoon already that Dare County had vaccinated 300 people that day. The Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services later confirmed the number online.

Mrs. Bateman said that after she and her husband checked in at the Baum Center upon arrival, they waited only about 10 minutes before they received their vaccinations. She estimated that there were five to six vaccinators on site, whom she thought were likely nurses. She also observed many members of the Dare County Emergency Services on hand, as well as Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the DCDHHS.  

After they were vaccinated, the Batemans were taken to a room where they were monitored for 15 minutes for any adverse reactions before they could leave. Rare instances of anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, have reportedly occurred in response to COVID-19 vaccination.

Each of the Batemans received an appointment card for a second-dose vaccination on Feb. 3, four weeks later.

Mrs. Bateman described the vaccination event as smooth and well-handled. She was impressed.  

The Beacon has learned that a number of Southern Shores homeowners have appointments for vaccinations on Monday at the Parks and Recreation Center in Kill Devil Hills.

LOCAL CASES CONTINUE TO INCREASE DRAMATICALLY

The DCDHHS reported yesterday two days’ worth of new COVID-19 cases locally. (See The Beacon’s report, 1/8/21.) The total was 110: 78 Dare County residents and 32 nonresidents.

We have just received unconfirmed word that a petition is circulating online to compel the Dare County Board of Commissioners to take action to enforce the Governor’s mask mandate, 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew, restaurant capacity restrictions, and other COVID-19 prevention actions. We are not aware of how local law enforcement departments are handling violations of the Governor’s executive orders. But we have heard anecdotally that some local restaurants are exceeding capacity.

We will report further on this development as we gather the facts.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE, I have just received word from a good friend of mine in Maryland that her 49-year-old stepson died Wednesday of COVID-19, more than a month after being diagnosed.

This young man was healthy and fit, with no underlying medical conditions. After testing positive for the virus, he isolated at home, where he was under the care of his personal physician. He thought he would be fine and advised his family not to worry.

But three weeks after his diagnosis, he had to be transported by ambulance to a hospital where he worsened and was placed on life support. I do not have all of the medical facts, but I know that he delayed going to the hospital because he just did not believe the severity of his condition. After all, he was healthy and young.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 50 percent of the COVID-19 spread is caused by asymptomatic people. See U.S. sets covid-19 death record as researchers point to asymptomatic cases – The Washington Post

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/8/21

1/7/21: N.C. COVID-19 CASES TOP 10,000 IN SINGLE DAY.

A record-high 10,398 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in North Carolina during the most recent 24-hour period, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard, while the number of hospitalizations continued to climb toward the 4,000 mark.

Since Governor Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen implored North Carolinians yesterday to take immediate action to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus–emphasizing again the imperative that they wear masks and stay home except for essential activities–67 more people have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and 137 have died.

Statewide hospitalizations now total 3,960, while deaths number 7,213.

The Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services did not update its COVID-19 dashboard yesterday. At 11 a.m. today, it posted new case reports for yesterday, showing 53 people, including 38 Dare County residents, had tested positive for COVID-19.

UPDATE: Later in the day the DCDHHS posted 57 more new COVID-19 cases, 40 residents and 17 nonresidents, for a two-day case total of 110. The DCDHHS dashboard also added the hospitalization of a Dare County resident, without explanation.

The Beacon, 1/7/21

1/6/21: DELETED; BACK TO COVID-19: GOVERNOR EXTENDS CURFEW 3 WEEKS; DCDHHS VACCINATES 300 PEOPLE TODAY.

I have deleted my post about the terrorist mob storming the U.S. Capitol today in order to prevent the peaceful transfer of power at the highest level of our government. What happened today and what is continuing to happen sickens me. I may take sick leave, but before I do, I will report:

Earlier today Governor Roy Cooper held a COVID-19 update briefing in which he announced the extension of the modified stay-at-home order in North Carolina by three weeks, which means that the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will remain in effect until 5 p.m. Jan. 29.

Also at the briefing, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, announced the issuance of a Secretarial Directive in which she advised people to stay home and only leave for essential activities, such as going to work or school, buying groceries, or attending to healthcare needs; to wear a mask at all times and to maintain six feet of physical distance from people whenever they are outside of their homes; to avoid gatherings with people who are not in their households; and to take other immediate actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

People who are age 65 or older, or who are at high-risk for developing serious illness, the Secretary advised, should arrange to have their groceries, medications, and other essential supplies delivered to them.

See the Secretarial Directive at: KM_227-20210105173141 (nc.gov)

Governor Cooper said that statewide COVID-19 metrics, which have dramatically escalated since early November, “paint a dark and difficult picture,” and continued to propound that “prevention is our best weapon.”

Secretary Cohen called the latest counts for new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and emergency-room visits for COVID-19-like symptoms “astonishingly high” and noted, with alarm, that they do not yet reflect the “full impact of the [Christmas] holidays.”

Today the NCDHHS dashboard reported 6,952 new COVID-19 cases, 3,893 hospitalizations, and a positivity rate of 17.8 percent. Both the number of hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests are record highs.

There is “an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state,” said Secretary Cohen. Both she and Governor said “getting the vaccine out quickly” is the State’s most urgent priority.

They also expressed disappointment that many people in Prioritization Phase 1A, such as staff at long-term care facilities, have declined to receive the vaccine.

According to the NCDHHS’s COVID-19 County Alert System, which was updated today, 96 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are currently in the “red” or “orange” zone for COVID-19 spread, signifying critical or substantial spread, respectively. Eighty-four of them are in the red, including Dare County.

“We are in a very dangerous position,” Governor Cooper said.

The COVID Data Tracker of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this morning that North Carolina has received 498,450 doses (4,753 per 100,000) of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines thus far, and has vaccinated 137,198 (1,308 per 100,000) people with first doses. Second doses of vaccine reportedly arrived in North Carolina this week.

Secretary Cohen said several times during today’s briefing, as she has in the past, that vaccine supplies in North Carolina “are very limited and people may need to wait.” The Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services has stressed the same message.

The Governor has mobilized the N.C. National Guard to help local health departments with administering vaccinations statewide. The Guard is sending out six-person teams to assist: Two team members will be able to administer vaccinations, while the other four will help with logistics.

The Secretary said that the NCDHHS has allocated all of the vaccine supply it has received to local health departments, but some counties are having trouble with their distribution.

According to Southern Shores homeowner Ursula Bateman, who received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine, with her husband Bob, at the Baum Center this afternoon, the DCDHHS vaccinated 300 people today. Mrs. Bateman described the vaccination event as “well-handled” and the vaccination itself as painless.

“It was just a prick,” she said, adding that she felt more pain when she was received a pneumonia vaccination.

The DCDHHS has not yet updated its dashboard today for new local COVID-19 cases.

I do not apologize for the passions I expressed earlier or for my refusal to engage in discussion and argument. This is a privately maintained blog of news and editorial opinion, not a publicly funded forum. The First Amendment does not apply to the actions of strictly private parties. It is designed to address government oppression.

There is a dangerous pandemic raging across our country. I have done my best to inform you about it locally and statewide.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/6/21