Chincoteague Appoints New Council Member, Discusses Rocket Launch

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By Carol Vaughn —

The Chincoteague town council Monday appointed Jay Savage to fill an open council seat, after Matthew Reed resigned his seat.
Chincoteague and NASA officials had a conference call Jan. 20 to discuss the upcoming Antares launch scheduled for Feb. 20. Town Manager Mike Tolbert said technicians coming to the area for the launch from overseas must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test; quarantine for 14 days; then have another negative test before they are allowed to work at Wallops.
“All those protocols are in place,” Tolbert said.
The NASA visitors center remains closed for now.
The town is applying for a grant to the Virginia Port Authority to replace one of the wooden piers at Curtis Merritt Harbor with a floating pier which would have 28 slips, compared to 21 slips now.
The cost is around $169,000, with a 25% match from the town.
Meals tax revenue for January is well behind that of previous years, according to Tolbert. Still, transient and occupancy taxes for lodgings were slightly above last January.
Bryan Rush, director of emergency services, said numerous patients the department transported with symptoms such as leg pain, abdominal pain, and back pain later were found to have COVID-19.
The town’s revised emergency operations plan will include a section on pandemics.
The department is working on the plan currently.
Accomack County had 93 COVID-19 cases and 11 hospitalizations in the past week, Rush said.
Northampton County had 34 additional cases and three hospitalizations.
Chincoteague had nine new cases in the last week for a total of 135; 1,585 residents have been tested, with 51 in the last week.
Second vaccine doses have been administered to Chincoteague Phase 1a people, including first responders.
The Phase 1b vaccination effort “is moving a lot slower,” due to lack of supply, Rush said.
Rush said he anticipates the rocket launch, set for a Saturday afternoon and with the NASA visitor center closed, “is going to be busier than any one we’ve had during this COVID period.”
The department is planning for how “to deal with the extra number of space tourists” on Chincoteague, Rush said.
Evelyn Shotwell of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce reviewed the chamber’s activities for the year.
The Eastern Shore in 2019, the most recent figures available from the state tourism commission, saw a growth rate of 5.6% in tourism, with $222 million spent on domestic travel in Accomack County.
“As you know Chincoteague is a huge part of that growth so we’re very proud of that,” Shotwell said.
The chamber continues to work to help businesses be resilient and recover from the pandemic’s effects, and to inform people wanting to start a business about local needs.
The chamber’s annual membership meeting Feb. 25 will feature Rush and Eastern Shore Rural Health and Riverside officials talking about COVID-19 and vaccines.
The chamber welcomed 37 new members last year.
During the pandemic, the chamber has regularly updated its members via email about federal and state regulations and guidelines, along with social media and press releases.
“That is ongoing,” Shotwell said.
The chamber also developed a webpage listing businesses that are open as restrictions changed.
The chamber reached more than 71,000 people by email with COVID messaging, had more than 48,000 web impressions to its COVID specific pages, and reached 999,000 via social with COVID related messages.
Chincoteague was named Best Coastal Small Town by USA Today in 2020.