The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council have both voted to limit occupancy in indoor restaurants and to require facial coverings in indoor spaces. The two resolutions were also endorsed by University of Virginia President Jim Ryan, even though the new rules are not binding on Grounds. This podcast is an audio summary of both meetings from July 27, 2020. Check the show notes for the script and more information!
Note: This is not a verbatim transcript but is the script for the show. Some of the actualities are written out, but not all of them.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Virginia increased by just over 1,500 according to released by the Virginia Department of Health on July 28, 2020. That’s the highest one-day total for all of July. Later on that day, both the Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted to take steps to try to slow spread before University of Virginia students begin to return.
I’m Sean Tubbs, the creator of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network, and your host for this program and others that may soon be happening. Since March, I’ve been putting this show together to capture as much as I can of what’s going on during this pandemic. At an Albemarle School Board forum tonight, there was still this question.
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On today’s show, coverage of the Supervisor and Council meetings, as well as a quick drop-in on the Albemarle School Board’s third and final forum. Thanks for listening, and let’s get going.
First, a quick update on some information.
The Virginia Department of Health reported another 1,505 cases of COVID-19 on July 27, the highest one-day total for all of July. The 7-day average for positive tests is at 7.5 percent for the fourth day straight. In the Thomas Jefferson Health District, another 48 cases were added on July 27.
Governor Northam will speak at 2 p.m. today at a press conference to give updates on Virginia’s response to COVID-19. He last held such an event on July 14. Northam was in Hampton yesterday to unveil a $70 million grant package for small business that comes from the federal CARES Act. The Rebuild VA program will help up to 7,000 applicants to cover costs associated with the pandemic.
“This grant program will provide up to $10,000 for small businesses and nonprofits to help them meet existing or unpaid expenses such as back due rent or utility payments,” Northam said. ”The funding can also be used to prepare for and respond to this this new environment, whether that means purchasing PPE or hand sanitizers for employees or pivoting to a new business model to better serve their customers.”
To be eligible, businesses must not have received federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other such initiatives. (press release)
The University of Virginia will reopen its Aquatics and Fitness Center (AFC) and other athletic facilities on August 3, according to a report on the Cavalier Daily. Members of the AFC will need to reserve a space and space will be limited. Other areas that will reopen are the Snyder Tennis Courts and the Artificial Turf Fields at the Park. (UVA rec website)
And now, our main feature today.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council have both voted to limit occupancy in indoor restaurants and to require facial coverings in indoor spaces. The two resolutions were also endorsed by University of Virginia President Jim Ryan, even though the new rules are not binding on Grounds. Deputy County Attorney Andy Herrick said Albemarle’s ordinance change has three main components.
“The first is a limit on indoor occupants at food establishments, wineries, breweries and distilleries. It would provide for a limit of 50 percent of occupancy. The second provision is a limitation on gatherings. While phase 3 statewide limits gatherings to 250 people, the proposed ordinance would limit gatherings to 50 people with certain exceptions.”
Herrick said those exceptions are for outdoor food establishments, farm wineries, farm breweries, religious exercises, weddings, and for public demonstrations.
“Finally section 6 of the proposed ordinance would have a face covering requirement which would require face coverings at indoor public places and outdoor public places at which six foot physical distancing is not possible.”
Exceptions include residences, gyms, schools, religious institutions, and the county courthouSe building. The ordinance had been modified since the Board last took it up last week with input from Albemarle’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley.
Supervisor Donna District of the Scottsville District likened the ordinance before the Board as a high-wire act.
“I believe as Supervisors that we have a responsibility for health and welfare as well as looking at the economic impact and that we are walking a bit of tight-rope here in trying to ensure that we take enough action without taking too much action. If we won’t take too enough action then we run the risk of our residents being infected and having spikes here that the rest of the country has seen. If we go too far then we have the potential of too much economic adverse impact.”
Supervisor Price said she had to also weigh the impact of thousands of UVA students returning to the community.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District said she had not heard any pushback the restaurant owners she had heard from. She said her goal in supporting the ordinance is to eventually reopen the economy.
“I think we’ve gone above and beyond to address the issues to keep our community safe but also to support the businesses and make sure they can continue thriving and hopefully if we can get everything done further we can open up everything.”
Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District urged anyone opposed to the ordinance to read it carefully before it goes into effect at midnight on August 1.
“And I won’t want folks to either think we’re being overly restrictive or not restrictive. Whether you’re for this ordinance or against this ordinance, I hope everybody will be mindful to read exactly what it is and isn’t doing.
Supervisor Liz Palmer of the Samuel Miller District suggested signage be drafted for businesses so they can point to this as a county regulation.
“So that their personnel have something to back them up. I know it’s very, very difficult in a lot of situations for employees in these businesses to stop somebody and say you must wear a mask to come in, so with the sign it’s helping them out and they’ll see that this is a county ordinance to do this,” Palmer said.
Supervisor Ann Mallek of the White Hall District said she would have supported a more restrictive ordinance, because she is concerned that the state is not hitting the health metrics that would guide good public policy.
“One set of numbers has been consistent since the very beginning and we have been told since the very beginning of this virus that falling numbers of cases for 14 days is needed before we know that we’re starting to make progress and that has been our goal. Not all these competing kinds of statistics.”
Supervisors voted unanimously to support the ordinance, which goes into effect at midnight on August 1 it will last for a period of sixty days. Herrick said the county is still looking into a policy to allow for restaurants to open more temporary outdoor seating.
The ordinance does not affect the school system, who held the third in a series of town hall meetings to discuss potential options for the upcoming school year. The School Board will hold a meeting on July 30 to make a final decision, as will their counterparts in Charlottesville.
UVA President Jim Ryan sent an email to the Board and Council stating support for the ordinances.
“Now more than ever, we see ourselves as partners with all of you and with our neighbors in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties,” Ryan wrote. “It has become a cliché to say that we are in this together, but in our case, the actions of a few people on Grounds or in the community really can affect everyone else. That’s why we continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis, and why we are working to make the best possible decisions under ever-shifting conditions—as I know all of you are.”
Supervisor Gallaway said he welcomed the partnership.
“And as I know, as students return, as he said some of the coming months could be challenging so it is important to have that partnership remain strong and we work together as we keep our community safe.”
Less than an hour later, four of the five City Councilors met to discuss a similar ordinance. City attorney John Blair described their draft as having stricter guidelines than those put forward by Governor Ralph Northam in Phase 3, which Virginia entered on July 1. Like Albemarle’s ordinance, the city’s will also limit in-person gatherings to fifty or less.
“What this local ordinance would do would be to capture all indoor public spaces and it’s important to note that the ordinance itself.”
The city’s ordinance has language that covers Councilor’s desire to make sure that not wearing a mask would not be an offense that would result in incarceration. Blair said Albemarle’s ordinance states that a violation would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could lead up to a year of jail time. Instead it would be a Class 3 misdemeanor.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he had been contacted by restaurant owners about the ordinance, which he supported because physical distancing rules also limit capacity by reducing available space.
“My suspicion is that it’s not going to hurt them, and number two, it’s going to hurt them, if they’re truly trying to enforce what the law would require it,” Snook said.
Deputy City Manager Paul Oberdorfer said Charlottesville and Albemarle will collaborate on a variety of efforts. One is an ambassador program to promote public awareness.
“And essentially setting up a joint effort to educate, inform, reinforce the idea of wearing masks and following the guidelines out in businesses as well as at public gatherings in place where people will be out in the public. As part of that proposal there were two elements to it. One would be a contracted service with a third party that we are proposing and the other piece of that would be using available staff within the parks and recreation department,” Obedorfer said. “They are customer service agents that are familiar with public engagement.”
Oberdorfer said it was important to have a consistent message between the two places, and the same contractor would manage the program in both localities.
During their deliberations, Councilor Snook said the metrics in the area may not necessarily tell epidemiologists what is going on.
“New cases continue to rise rather quickly but they are not reflected in new hospitalizations or additional deaths and so the question I suppose, and what I’d like to be able to ask Dr. Bonds or somebody is that are we seeing a lot of marginal, technically COVID but not really symptomatic cases because we’re doing contact tracing now, and is the situation truly different from the way it was a month ago?”
Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker was absent. The city’s ordinance also goes into effect on August 1.
Later on in the day, the Albemarle School Board held the last of three town halls on the county school system’s plans for the school year. Currently the plan is for students to return to class on September 8 if they choose on a hybrid model. But the county is also preparing for plans for going online only. The School Board meets on July 30 to make a final decision. Dr. Helen Dunn is the public affairs officer for Albemarle schools.
“Today we really want to make this about hearing your comments, hearing your concerns and thoughts and feelings about reopening schools in the fall semester, so questions, keep sending them to me, keep sending them to your school board members.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Denise Bonds of the Thomas Jefferson Health District was on hand to talk about the latest statistics. She also talked about how younger people are affected by COVID-19.
One of the first people to speak asked what would happen if there were suddenly an outbreak in a school. Would the school be shut down? The whole school system?
Let’s hear one question and answer from the night.
And that’s it for this show. We’ll hear more about school policy in the days to come. I’m Sean Tubbs.