On March 17, North Carolina’s bars and restaurants were shuttered to the public, per an Executive Order from the governor, marking the first big move of soon-to-come social distancing guidelines.
On March 20, access to Dare County was prohibited by local officials, (which barred non-resident property owners entry to the county), and on March 27, a statewide Stay at Home Executive Order was also issued, limiting commerce across North Carolina, with only essential businesses remaining open.
But you already knew this, which is why you are reading this blog in the comfort of your own home… which is likely claustrophobic right now, thanks to a bunch of family members and / or pets who are making you even more stir crazy, because they are also bored out of their gourds.
You’ve also likely encountered a wave of social media posts, news stories, and plain old rumors that have made you want to tear your hair out in clumps, (which I suppose is one way to obtain a haircut these days, if nothing else.)
Rumors are flying that the locals don’t want owners or visitors back, (absolutely not true), that our non-resident owners don’t care about our islands, (also absolutely not true), and that the islands are effectively shuttered and closed for business, (enh, we’ll expand on this one in a bit.)
So, hello there, readers! We hear you, and we are VERY familiar with your struggles right now, and I promise, we are right there with you.
Granted, there have been some promising steps since March. Non-resident owners will be allowed back to Dare County starting May 4, and the potential lifting of visitors’ restrictions in the future are being discussed, per a joint press release from Dare County and Currituck County which stated that they will coordinate reentry procedures when we’re ready to open.
But in the meantime, let’s take a moment to check in, wade through the rumors and stories that have flourished over the past few weeks, and take a well-deserved break from letting social media and COVID-19 rumors drive us mad while drinking wine with our cats… or maybe that’s just how I spend my time these days.
First of all, we need our non-resident owners, and our visitors, and we really, REALLY want you back when it’s safe for us all.
A colleague who is much smarter than me, (which is pretty much all of them), once said that a crisis will bring out the best, and the worst in people.
This is why when you look at your social media feed, you’ll see videos of people in Walmart in hand-to-hand combat over toilet paper, but you’ll also see exhausted nurses, smiling grocery store employees, and folks making masks for residents, friends, and folks in need. (Special shout-out to Pam Smith for making my lovely mask, which truly made my day – and my grocery shopping – infinitely better.)
Anyways, with that sentiment in mind, early on in our local COVID-19 experience, a supposed conflict arose between non-resident property owners and residents, after Dare County closed the Outer Banks to any new arrivals who didn’t live here full-time.
These restrictions included folks who own second homes on the islands, who pay taxes, and who essentially have their own literal spots on the islands to call home. Keep in mind that the second homeowners are the ones responsible for providing the influx of visitors to our islands, (since our unique tourism economy is one of the few spots in the world that is primarily based on vacation rental homes) and if it wasn’t for them, many residents would have trouble generating an income. Not only that, but it needs to be repeated that they DO own property here, which includes all of the fun taxes that come along with it, and one assumes that the reason why you own a home is to go to it at some point. Not allowing access without a hurricane or a major event, (like the 2018 power outage), is sure to cause understandable frustration.
But at the same time, you have the residents, who inherently know the restrictions of what we can offer when we’re in an off-season landscape, which is certainly the case right now.
Our grocery stores, doctors, EMS personnel, hospital beds, and other essential services and supplies are limited, and if we have hundreds or thousands of folks coming to Hatteras Island from heavily affected areas – and in turn causing community spread here, even if it’s just from a couple of folks who are initially infected – it could easily translate into a catastrophe for our lone hospital, and our isolated food chain.
And keep in mind, you also have the folks who work for the property management companies, who will need to clean and inspect homes for owners and visitors, (which translates to added potential exposure), while still fielding hundreds if not thousands of questions on a daily basis about when folks can come back. (Please thank these folks at the vacation rental companies, too, because you know they are having a tough month while still trying to keep tourism to our islands going strong!)
I stated this in our last blog, and it remains 100% true – it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
But if you look at the more popular posts on social media, you’d think that this situation was brewing an outright war among visitors, and homeowners, and residents.
It’s not, at all.
This animosity is stemming from a small handful of folks, and extreme viewpoints will just always garner the most attention –especially if they are negative.
There aren’t really “sides” either, if you think about it, because single every person with a connection to the islands is going through a really difficult time and a distinct set of challenges.
We all love our islands, we’re worried about our collective futures, and it’s VERY easy to examine the different sides of a multi-faceted problem. All you have to do is skew your point-of-view a few degrees or so.
Like literally everything on social media, there are a few extremists with very loud voices. For the most part, however, the rest of us are simply residing in purgatory, acknowledging that we need each other, and eagerly waiting to get back to a new version of normal.
And most folks get this. THANK YOU to all the residents, homeowners, and visitors who understand that everything is out of whack, and we have to take every instrumental step at our disposal to get through this current crisis, and to reopen in a safe and fair way for all involved.
Rational folks are the majority – they’re just quiet, so you need to pay attention to be aware that they are out there.
The rumor mill is alive and well on the Outer Banks
There’s a favorite expression of mine when it comes to the rumor mill on the islands: “If you break wind in Rodanthe, by the time they hear about in in Ocracoke, it’s a damn hurricane.” I forgot who came up with that phrase, but it was a solid 20 years ago, and it really hasn’t gone out of fashion since.
But it’s understandable why the rumor mill keeps churning out tons of COVID-19 stories that either originally stem from facts, or that have a few true tidbits thrown into a basically untrue story. I assure you, we have been weeding through tons of questions, leads, and potential stories in the past few weeks, and have done our best to only focus on valid information that is helpful for our readers.
Here’s a few key facts that we know, for sure.
- Dare County IS conducting COVID-19 tests. The process to get tested is to see your healthcare provider if you have a fever of 100.4 or greater, cough, and symptoms of respiratory illness. From this doctor’s initial visit, a test will be scheduled as needed.
- There is not a set date for when visitors can return. Although the Stay-at-Home order from the county has been extended until May 22, it does not necessarily mean that visitors will be allowed back on May 23. But discussions are underway, and the progress of the state to control the virus over the next few weeks will likely dictate where we go from here.
- There IS at least one case on Hatteras Island. The Island Free Press received multiple confirmed reports from trusted sources that at least one of the 15 cases is from a Hatteras Island resident. We posted this fact after hearing from a number of folks who were hopeful that our island, due to its inherent isolation, was completely safe, and we could be less guarded. This is unfortunately not the case.
Granted, there are rumors about more cases on the island, but knowing that COVID-19 has already occurred south of the bridge is more than enough reason take any and all precautions as needed. And we will not post more information about additional cases until we can confirm them as a verifiable fact, while keeping the patient’s privacy.
- Just to reiterate – We really do want our visitors and owners back, and hatred is NOT the norm. We had to post a story on Tuesday about someone who had apparently left fliers on vehicles with out-of-town license plates stating that they should leave the island immediately. It was supposedly signed from “The people who actually live here,” but I promise, this ugly human being does not speak for everyone.
This is absolutely disgusting behavior, and is not acceptable, and virtually every resident I know feels the same way. (And what on earth does it accomplish other than creating even more animosity?) As stated before, these folks make a big impression, but their hatred is NOT the norm, and they are in no way a mouthpiece for our islanders.
Our local stores and restaurants are incredible, and they need our support. Now.
I don’t know about you, but my need to constantly stress-eat is at full force.
And our incredible restaurants and still-open stores have responded, and they have responded with gusto.
Our island restaurants are offering pizzas, burgers, specialty sandwiches with extra bacon, Mexican food, Italian specialties, wings, stewed chicken and pie bread, and literally every comfort food that you could possibly need during a global pandemic. Many of these restaurants have also shifted to delivery services, making it easier than ever to indulge without pulling yourself away from a Netflix binge-a-thon.
Meanwhile, our local grocery stores like Conner’s Supermarket and Village Red & White are adhering to recommendations and subsequent Executive Orders that have changed regularly since early March, and they are still checking out customers with a sympathetic smile and a regular efficiency that you come to expect after literal decades of operation.
These folks are staying open for us – and the best thing we can do is to thank them with our patronage.
Hide the bathroom scale in a closet you never visit, (or just spend more time than normal patrolling the beach for seaglass and shells), and please help keep our local eateries and food suppliers in business.
Easter weekend is typically when we welcome our first big wave of vacationers, and when our local Outer Banks businesses launch a hopefully successful start of the 2020 season. The money earned during these crucial spring and summer months carries over into the winter, and keeps everyone going for another year.
Well, that clearly didn’t happen in 2020. We started with a handicap in the form of lingering Hurricane Dorian recovery efforts from September of 2019, and we’re continuing with said handicap in the form of restricted entry, and no visitors. And let’s be honest – although no one wants to think about it, (yours truly included), a major hurricane in the future would be devastating. That’s an elephant-in-the-room worst case scenario for sure, and it weighs heavily on every business owner’s and employee’s mind.
We can’t predict the future, and there’s a head-spinning amount of things that are unknown right now. Worst of all, it’s all beyond our control, and thinking about the unending spider-web series of “what-ifs” can drive you absolutely mad, and running for the nearest restaurant that serves comfort food. (My go-to is mac and cheese.)
But we CAN focus on the things we can do to help our local businesses, now.
We can frequent the businesses that are open, and we can order online from local shops for gifts or entertainment needs, (Buxton Village Books is a personal favorite), and we can show our support, and make a dent in a 2020 season that has gotten off to an unprecedentedly horrible start.
Are we all broke right now? Absolutely.
But whenever possible, we can do our best to keep our limited funds in our own community. Again, they are staying open for us. So we might as well gain weight for them!
Finally, and most of all, we need some damn positivity.
Staying positive and happy, (and somehow not falling into the pit of despair), is surprisingly challenging.
I was so peppy and confident during that first week of isolation: “I’m going to cook all these recipes! I’m going to enjoy hours of shelling! I’m going to work super hard, and learn how to paint, and fix the house, and do yoga during all of my lunch breaks!”
Now, I’m on week whatever, and I’m wondering if it’s too soon to binge-watch that stupid Tiger King documentary for a second time. Perhaps not, if it means that I don’t have to leave my couch.
But you know what helps this lethargic and negative mindset? Good stories.
This includes stories of locals making masks for their fellow islanders, (like my aforementioned friends Bill and Pam Smith), individuals who are volunteering, musicians who are providing live concerts like Brian Surratt and our IFP friend Rory Kelleher, restaurants that are offering comfort-food specials, grocery stores that are STAYING OPEN, locals and non-resident owners donating to our food pantries, or just folks who post a cute animal video on social media instead of cruel comments. (You can never get enough of cute animal videos.)
If this describes you and your efforts, then Thank You. You are making so many lives brighter with your constant goodwill, and your regular reminders that positivity exists, and is contagious.
Above all else, please keep it up!
Our job at IFP is to report the news, but heaven knows, a positive, happy story is a beacon in this time of covering updates on COVID-19 case counts and detailing new restrictions.
I know that all of us who have connections to the islands will get through this, and in our own little IFP world, we’ll solely get through this because of you.
Hang in there, please, and we will too!
And I’ll gladly see you on the other side of this mess, when I can turn my attention to more technical – and decidedly boring – blogs about the new tax rates, or survey data related to beach nourishment projects.
Who knew I would look forward to that day?