Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders are unfortunately used to emergency situations.
We’re used to seeing empty grocery store shelves, adjusting to business closures, and essentially dealing with a landscape where everyone is hunkering down at home, waiting for an approaching storm.
We’re used to shutting off access to our islands before or after a catastrophic event, (which recently occurred for new visitors last Tuesday, and non-resident property owners on Friday), and we’re used to gratefully reopening these borders again, once the storm passes by.
What we’re not used to, however, is having everyone else in the world doing the exact same thing, and at the exact same time.
This is brand new, and it’s jarring, to say the least.
There are a few additional new challenges that islanders are faced with, too, which are somewhat unique in the global scope of the Coronavirus pandemic.
For one thing, we are an economy that is dependent on visitors to survive, so not having that first wave of vacationers that corresponds with Spring Breaks across the East Coast hurts, and it hurts badly. And while most folks would prefer to currently focus on the COVID-19 problem at hand, (and understandably so), this elephant-in-the-room problem clearly deepens with every passing day for residents and business owners all across the Outer Banks.
Also, because we are situated 30 miles off the coast from the rest of the United States, our resources are inherently limited. An emergency trip to the Outer Banks Hospital is a solid 40-minute drive or longer, and we all have connections to our first responders, our ambulance drivers, and our local police officers, and we genuinely want them to stay out of harm’s way.
So we want to be isolated, sort of. We want to ensure our grocery stores, first responders, and other essential businesses and personnel are able to cater to an effective wintertime population, without fear that panicked hoarding behaviors or new arrivals are putting an unnecessary strain on our supplies and our essential workforce – who are also our loved ones.
But at the same time, we also need our visitors and our non-resident property owners to survive, and we want them to feel safe, too, and not be scared away once the crisis passes. And considering that so many businesses are already trying to get out of the red following Hurricane Dorian, (and 2016’s Matthew and Hermine for that matter), it creates a terrible limbo.
Simply put, we need our out-of-town folks in order to survive, but we can’t make it through the COVID-19 crisis if our out-of-town folks are here in significant numbers.
To put it more eloquently, we’re “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.” And that’s pretty obvious.
But while the things we cannot control are looming heavily in all of our minds, (and you have no idea how many bags of Goldfish crackers I have consumed in the past week as a result – it’s more than eight), this is nevertheless the time to focus on what we CAN control, and what we CAN do going forward.
Here’s a quick list…
- Our publisher Donna Barnett, myself, and everyone at the Island Free Press assures you, our readers, that we will strictly focus on facts and beneficial information for our community.
We will NOT hype up the crisis for the sake of social media likes, or page views, or whatever metrics are trending these days. Please contact us at any time with information that will be beneficial to our readers – whether it’s updated senior shopping hours at local grocery stores, or available resources at local food pantries. We’re here to serve as your community mouthpiece, and need your help to do our job well!
- Be smart. If you’re hunkering down from another state, or even if you’re an islander who took a recent trip up the beach for a medical appointment, stay home whenever possible. Wash your hands regularly, and use hand sanitizer if you do need to go out. And if you’re running short of supplies, feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help you connect with the supplies you need, even if it’s from my own personal stock. (I always get hand sanitizers as Christmas presents, somehow? I guess I must come across as an inherently dirty person.)
- Don’t buy more than you need. I am shamefully guilty of this, personally, because when I saw that toilet paper was available at a local store on Sunday morning, I went ahead and bought a 12-pack for just me, my husband, and our cats, who are not regular users of paper products. (Also, see my aforementioned addiction to Goldfish crackers.) In any case, our supply chain is solid, and hoarding and panic-buying will create a problem, rather than “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist yet.
- Follow trusted resources ONLY. On our islands, rumors have a tendency to spread quicker than viruses, and you have no idea how many rumors we’ve had to examine in the past week alone, only to find out they were not accurate. Dare County is doing an exceptional job of posting daily updates at https://www.darenc.com/, and their emergency task force is meeting daily, so official news from the county is an accurate and great way to obtain vital information close to home.
So follow the above, and please – above all else – take care of yourself, and our community.
I used to joke with our IFP founder and original editor, Irene Nolan, that you could tell how stressed I was during hurricane coverage by how many curse words she’d have to delete from my stories.
Our beloved Irene passed away almost exactly three years ago in March of 2017, but I have had to self-edit and remove at least a half dozen of these thoroughly inappropriate words for this story alone. (My apologies if I missed any, but spellcheck is usually pretty good at pointing these out.)
Nobody knows what comes next, which is the most frustrating situation possible for a media outlet. And we could try to predict and hypothesize until the laughing gulls come home, but that is in no way useful for any of us at the moment.
What we CAN do is share all factual, confirmed updates as they arrive, (and as soon as possible), and we will continue to share information that can benefit all of our readers.
From our visitors and homeowners who love our islands, and who are forced to keep tabs from hundreds of miles away, to our residents who are understandably worrying about what comes next, YOU are in our minds, and we’ll do our best to help keep you informed in every way possible.
“What the hell is going on?” is the question of the day, for sure.
But, remember, we have weathered many, many storms before, (too many to name without utilizing an entire paragraph to do so), and this, too, will pass.
Hang in there, residents, homeowners, and visitors, and we will, too! We just have to work together to be effective.
Think of the days and weeks that followed Dorian in September of 2019, (and granted, that seems like a lifetime ago at this point.) This was a wonderful moment in time when we were all working together, and we all had a singular appreciation of our islands in mind. Whether we were native islanders or first-time visitors, it didn’t matter. We all helped out, and respected one another regardless of our origins, and we sped up our recovery as a result.
It’s that sense of community that keeps us together. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have a connection to our islands – whether you’re my next-door neighbor in Avon who I can’t physically hug, or a person who is currently forced to “shelter-at-home” in a heavily affected city hundreds or thousands of miles away.
We appreciate you, our visitors, residents, homeowners, and all of our readers. And at the IFP, we’ll keep working hard, nonstop, to keep you informed on what’s going on in our island community.
There are more questions than answers right now, for sure. But as a 20-year journalist, I assure you that, at some point, questions get answered, and stories evolve and eventually disappear from the headlines.
Here’s to looking forward to the day when the Coronavirus story only exists in our archives.
That day will come. Hang in there.