By Carol Vaughn —
Chincoteague officials voted Monday to end the town’s state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town council voted 4-1 to approve Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor’s motion to come out of the state of emergency, after hearing an update on the pandemic from Bryan Rush, the town’s emergency management coordinator.
Rush recommended Chincoteague remain in the state of emergency, noting Virginia as a whole is still under a state of emergency and the town will remain under the state’s Phase 3 restrictions even if it ends the local state of emergency.
“But mainly, if we were to have another outbreak in two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, by having that state of emergency in place, we have the FEMA … money … in place,” he said.
If the town goes out of the emergency state, it could take time to restart that funding stream.
“If you go out of the state of emergency, the point that we go out of it to the point that we come back for the same incident, which would be COVID-19, could be unfunded during that time period,” Rush said.
Mayor J. Arthur Leonard said it is easier to stay in the state of emergency than to have to go back into one later.
Still, Taylor said going out of the state of emergency would return the town “back to regular council rules. … We need to do things together; we need to make decisions together.”
He cited actions taken by the mayor during the state of emergency, including posting police at the bridge leading onto the island and closing down motels, saying “we should be able to do that together” as a council.
Leonard responded, saying, “Is that a problem for me, the mayor, to be in charge, during a state of emergency or do you want to put handcuffs on me when I’m trying to do my job because you didn’t get to do it?”
“My statement is to say that we could have convened,” Taylor said later in the discussion.
“You did convene March 19; you voted to have a local emergency declared,” Rush said.
Councilwoman Ellen Richardson voted against the motion. Councilwoman Denise Bowden was absent.
There have been 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in Chincoteague’s ZIP code, according to the health department. Rush noted only people who claim Chincoteague as their residence are counted in that number, meaning part-time residents “may not show up in our numbers.”
There have been 177 tests reported in the 23336 ZIP code.
“Today is day 118 of COVID-19 on Chincoteague and it’s day 109 of our local declaration of emergency,” Rush said in his update before the vote, adding, “We’ve not let our guard down.”
The mayor and town council declared a local state of emergency March 19, saying in a public service announcement: “The declaration in conjunction with Accomack and Northampton counties enables the localities to better respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This will be accomplished by utilizing resources and procedures not normally available in day to day operations. It also allows the request of state and federal assets and possible reimbursement of emergency protective measures incurred during to (sic) the emergency response.”
Rush said the message during Virginia’s Phase 3 of its reopening plan “is still safer at home.”
He noted younger people, ages 19 to 34, are seeing increasing case numbers, and said that in a meeting he participated in earlier that day “they did caution us that there is a second wave coming. …. Certainly, we are not out of the woods yet. … The responsibility lies with the public.”
The town is seeing an uptick in use of personal protective equipment by employees, in part because of the hot weather as well as because of an increase in the number of emergency medical assistance calls, Rush said.
Hurricane season could complicate the pandemic recovery, Rush said, noting if people are required to evacuate to shelters, those facilities “are going to be a real contentious site for the spread of COVID, because there’s no way to spread folks out.”
“Let’s hope this is not going to be a busy season,” he said.