— By Carol Vaughn
Accomack County officials declared a state of emergency in the county Thursday, March 19, after the Eastern Shore Health District announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
The Board of Supervisors met Friday via teleconference to ratify the emergency declaration made the day before by the Director of Emergency Management.
Chairwoman Reneta Major offered an invocation at the start of the emergency meeting, asking God to give the board of supervisors and staff “wisdom in this perilous time,” and to “intervene on our behalf.”
“We ask that you heal the land, God — only You can,” she said.
Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason said the ordinance to be approved was “substantially similar to some other jurisdictions out there that have adopted one.”
“We have to be able to continue government without having a typical quorum of the governing body present to conduct business,” said Cela Burge, Accomack County attorney.
The county is still subject to recording meetings, keeping minutes, and other requirements, including under the Freedom in Information Act, according to Burge.
Procedures adopted by the board of supervisors to ensure continuity of local government during the COVID-19 emergency include:
Meetings of the board of supervisors and other local boards and commissions may be held through electronic means, without a quorum of members physically present in a single location.
Any matter that requires the physical presence of the public in a county building that is closed to the public has been suspended.
County meetings may be held without the public being physically present, as long as alternative arrangement for public access is made, such as audio, video or telephone broadcast.
Where a public hearing is required by law, public comment will be solicited and received by written means before a vote, or may be solicited and received by electronic and telephone means, if it is practical and possible. Those comments will be provided to members of the board or commission and will be made part of the official record of the meeting.
The emergency provisions are to remain in effect until the board of supervisors repeals them, for no more than six months.
Additionally, all Accomack County facilities and offices, including the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office, the Voter Registrar’s Office, Parks and Recreation, and the Treasurer’s Office are closed to the public starting Friday, March 20, and will remain closed until further notice. “We don’t take this decision lightly, but we’re following the recommendations of the governor and state health officials about limiting public gatherings to no more than 10 and practicing social distancing,” the county announced in a press release.
No in-person transactions will be conducted.
All county employees will continue to report to work during their normal work hours. The public is encouraged to use the county’s online options for payments and services as the majority of transactions and services can be conducted in ways other than face-to-face.
For assistance, please call during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.) at (757) 787-5700.
Additional information regarding options for conducting transactions with specific departments can be found on the county website, and at the entrance to the administrative offices on Courthouse Avenue. Landfill, transfer stations and convenience centers will continue to operate, but with limited interaction between staff and public.
All county-sponsored or supported events and activities are canceled until further notice. The decision to modify county operations follows the governor’s emergency declaration, CDC recommendations and the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation.
“We already have quite a few people telecommuting as of today…This is a very fluid situation,” Mason said of county staff.
“The public has been very understanding, and we will continue to adapt as we need to,” he said.
Major urged Accomack County residents to stay home for the time being.
“We can strongly encourage our citizens to stay put within our own jurisdictions. I know sometimes it’s tempting to go…Our citizens need to understand they need to understand, they need to stay within Accomack or Northampton county. I don’t think we need to be venturing out too much.”