By Carol Vaughn —
The Chincoteague town council held an emergency meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the town’s response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent executive orders increasing restrictions on gatherings due increasing cases of COVID-19 in Virginia.
All council members except Matthew Reed attended.
“We’ve got things coming up in the town that need to be looked at,” said Mayor J. Arthur Leonard.
“The governor sent down new things and everybody’s got to react to those new things,” Leonard said.
Northam’s orders restrict public, outdoor gatherings to 25, versus the 250 previously allowed.
“In my view, that’s going to shut down tree lightings, parades,” Leonard said.
Emergency Management Coordinator Bryan Rush said Virginia’s seven-day average for the coronavirus test positivity rate is increasing and now stands at 7.3% — a 1.2% jump in one week.
Accomack County has had 17 new cases, one hospitalization, and two deaths from COVID-19 and Chincoteague has had two more cases in the past week, he said.
“In my opinion, this is still a steady state, but it’s a warning state,” Rush said.
Rush said religious ceremonies are not affected by the order, but the 25-person limit does apply to things like wedding receptions and funeral wakes.
The only change for restaurants is a ban on serving alcohol after 10 p.m., he said.
Rush said a decision was to be made by the chamber of commerce about whether to proceed with the Christmas parade; have a reverse drive-by parade where entries with 25 or fewer people are stationary and spaced out and the public drives by them; or cancel the event.
The Chincoteague Island Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday the parade is canceled.
“After much consideration, the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has made the decision to cancel this year’s Chincoteague Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade, scheduled for Saturday, December 5th. With the new state guidelines limiting all public and private in-person gatherings to 25 individuals and with the safety of our participants, essential workers, volunteers, and staff as our highest priority, this is the best public safety decision. Even a drive-thru parade would have its risks.
“We know this is another disappointment, but we are already working on some other special happenings because this is still a Season of Thankfulness and we still have so much to be thankful for. Stay tuned for more details…at www.chincoteaguechamber.com.
Additionally, the downtown merchants association canceled the tree lighting ceremony, Rush said. The downtown Christmas tree will be lit for the holidays, but without a ceremony.
The Chincoteague Cultural Alliance announced Wednesday its Holly Day Market, planned for this Saturday, Nov. 28, also has been canceled out of safety concerns.
Councilwoman Denise Bowden said the council should support whatever decision the chamber of commerce makes about the parade.
“We’re not being more restrictive…than what the governor has put out, but to me it just seems like it’s pretty cut and dry what we have to do,” she said.
“As much as we all want these things that we’re normally accustomed to, I think right now we’ve got to make these sacrifices, and Lord willing, if nothing else takes us out and we survive this COVID stuff, we can get back to normal operations, hopefully by the spring or mid-summer anyway,” Bowden said, calling for “small sacrifices right now” to ensure the safety of the community and visitors.
“If they want to have the parade, I think do it. People need stuff, too. I think people go half stir-crazy when…everything is taken away,” said Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor.
“…It’s been so long now, you know what I mean? People have just about had it, so what I’m saying is, give them something,” he said.
Still, Councilman Bill McComb said, “It is also a time to consider public safety, too. You can’t say without a doubt you can do this successfully without congregation.”
He said having the parade also would encourage participants to congregate as they put floats together.
Police Chief Robbie Fisher said the police department tag football tournament on Saturday, Nov. 28, will go on, with players and officials screened, social distancing enforced, and other safety measures in place. The tournament is a fundraiser for a new town park.