Though the county has yet to hit its self-appointed milestone, Onslow leaders are prepped to begin slowly coming out of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown/slowdown.
At its meeting April 20, Onslow County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution asking the governor to allow COVID-19 restrictions to end as of May 1. Commissioner Paul Buchanan explained though, the end date is a moving target of sorts. The county plan, which he said follows the path to normalcy laid out by Pres. Donald Trump, is predicated on a diminishment of new cases of COVID-19. (See related article.) And, on April 23, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s stay-at-home and other restrictive executive orders.
Key to the plan – established with the health of county citizens in mind – is claiming 14 consecutive days with no new cases, according to Buchanan.
“The health of county citizens is critical,” he said.
The proclamation, sent to Cooper on April 21, references federal guidelines issued on April 16 entitled “Opening Up America Again,” which defines conditions that claim a “downward trajectory of COVID-19 symptoms, a downward trajectory of documented cases, and effective testing and treatment of patients to begin opening up businesses through a phased-in approach.”
The proclamation states, “Whereas, the President also specified the importance of local areas conducting contact tracing, having sufficient screening in place, an ability to surge healthcare capacity and equip workers with protective gear, and to advise citizens regarding protocols for social distancing.
“Whereas, the President advised that under these conditions of contact tracing, a declining trajectory of the incidence of COVID-19 and a lack of resurgence, a three-phase reopening should begin now, which will include taking preventive precautions like hand-washing, temperature monitoring, enhanced disinfection, limiting nonessential travel, taking special care of more vulnerable populations, continuing to limit visitation at nursing homes, keeping common public areas closed, maintaining many social distancing measures and refraining from large gatherings throughout the three phases of implementation …”
Onslow County has seen an incidence rate of 19 cases per 100,000, “which is significantly less than the average in North Carolina (63 per 100,000) and the national average (230 cases per 100,000),” according to the proclamation. Since it’s passing the county has added two cases and as of Tuesday, has 40 cases.
The proclamation also notes that the county has seen a decline in the number of 911 calls involving respiratory symptoms.
“The Onslow County economy is highly dependent upon retail, restaurant and other service industries, lacking significant manufacturing and other types of industry and unemployment and hunger have increased in our area at an alarming rate,” the proclamation states. “Onslow County public assistance applications for Food and Nutrition Supplements are up 46 percent over this time last year from March 1 through April 17; Onslow County residents have received more than $1.2 million in additional Food and Nutrition Supplements in the last three weeks, and Onslow County has distributed an additional 75,000 meals in essential groceries to citizens in need, and this board is concerned that the risk of the rising economic impact and widespread food insecurity is now outpacing the risk of death for COVID-19 in this area.”
The proclamation ends up asking Cooper to implement Trump’s plan, and allow executive orders restricting the operation of businesses to expire.
“We are hoping the governor will allow the county to take care of our own under the president’s guidelines,” Buchanan said on Wednesday, April 22. “We will go by the guidelines of the president.”
That same day, in a message broadcast over the Onslow County Facebook page, Sharon Russell, county manager, referenced the proclamation.
“We are very concerned about the economic stresses that everyone’s under right now,” she said. “But we are also very concerned about the health of the county. The key is to balance it.”
Russell said emerging from the shutdown/slowdown would not begin until the governor lifts the executive orders.
At such time as those orders are lifted, Buchanan said the county would work with its municipal partners – Russell has been in contact with Swansboro in making those plan – including Jacksonville. The county’s largest municipality issued a proclamation of its own on Wednesday, April 22. It is similar to the county’s proclamation, according to Buchanan,
“We would work together,” Buchanan said of the county and city.
Winding down the restrictions would be a gradual process. “We have to crawl before we can walk,” Buchanan said. “We would open up a little at the time.”
He said county residents had shown an extraordinary response to the restrictions, which has led to the low rate of cases. That would serve the county well in the process of coming out of the restrictions. “Our citizens are very health-conscious,” Buchanan said.
While he can’t know when the restrictions will be lifted to allow a return to normal, the commissioner said he does know that businesses are hurting.
“It’s killing everybody. The small businesses, what they are going through, really concern me,” Buchanan said.
He said the federal disaster assistance program is critical for small businesses. And, he added, “If they can’t get a loan, I don’t know what they’ll do. They might be unable to reopen. I’m really concerned.”
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
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