CAROLINA BEACH — It has been less than one month since New Hanover County issued stay-home orders for residents in hopes to slow the spread of Covid-19, but some residents, business owners, and even government officials are pushing back against the closures.
While the medical community continues to tout the importance of social distancing to prevent the overwhelming of health care systems, there are those who are dissatisfied with the state of affairs and are taking matters into their own hands.
Social media has been a safe haven for disgruntled residents to voice their concerns with what some have called an abuse of power — or even a power grab — by the state and local governments. In Carolina Beach, more than 100 residents are calling upon town leadership to reopen the island for business and have planned a ‘march’ of civil disobedience for Friday.
On Monday, a Facebook group called Citizens to REOPEN CAROLINA BEACH was created — by Tuesday morning it had more than 150 members.
The group, created by Bobby McConville, is direct with its messaging: end the town closures and reopen the island for business.
“It’s time to END this incompetent way of Town Management! Notice I didn’t use the term LEADERSHIP because there is NONE. setting up this Friday to meet at the Lake to march down Lake Park Blvd to Town Hall and Protest the Unconstitutional Lockdown of our Beach. Bring signs and banners,” McConville wrote in the group’s first post.
Despite the call for town management to open the island for business, many of the orders have actually been issued by the state, as well as the county, which supersede the desires of town leadership.
After amassing more than 100 followers, McConville posted his plans for a march of civil disobedience on Friday.
“Great News!!! We have over a hundred people. Please share and invite your peeps. We can meet at lake. I will set up spots to gather in. No more than 9 in a group 6-10 ft apart. Once we have assembled we will march down Lake Park Blvd to Town Hall. I will call the News and Radio for Press coverage. We will march in groups of 9. We will be civilly disobedient but not unsafe. I believe in common sense, not stupid Mob mentality. I will ask Flaming Amy’s and Micheals Seafood and the other shop owners to help provide a after protest beverages and food. It would only be appropriate to help pay them to help keep them in business…. Hence the March. We will be civil, respectful, and show the State how Awesome the Citizens of Carolina Beach are. This is our opportunity to show our fellow citizens how to get things done and move in a positive safe matter, that keeps the heartbeat of community alive and vibrant. Please keep the signs Direct and Piffy. If you think of a March slogan that we can repeat going down the road please post it. This protest, in earnest, Is to help our town council move forward in reopening our community!” he wrote.
(Note, the above has only been edited for formatting, not spelling, grammar, or punctuation).
Despite the fact organizers are calling for groups of nine or less to march on Town Hall, it is likely this even would still be considered a mass gathering, which is prohibited by Governor Roy Cooper.
Carolina Beach Chief of Police Chris Spivey was asked for comment on the planned march.
“The Town’s ordinances contain a prescribed process which allows for parades, protest, etc. We have not received any requests for permits regarding such events. The Carolina Beach Police will continue to enforce the Local, County and State emergency orders,” he said.
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office responded to questions about the legality and enforcement of the governor’s orders on mass gatherings and said, “That would be a question for CB Police and as always we will assist them in any way.”
Mayor of Carolina Beach LeAnn Pierce also weighed in on the call for protest. Pierce said she understands the frustrations of residents who have been forced to close their businesses, but the anger seems to be misplaced and nobody from the group has reached out to her with their concerns.
“I have heard that ‘there is no leadership and that nothing is being done’ but I don’t know how you know what is being done if you haven’t reached out and asked,” Pierce said.
As far as reopening things like restaurants and stores, it is in the hands of the state and the county, she said.
It is worth noting that Pierce is in the hotel business and has been forced to shut down her hotel and lay off her employees due to the governor’s orders (as well as local orders). As far as reopening the town, Pierce said that it is incorrect to say that there is nothing being done at the town level, plans are in the works to get the town back to business as usual, just as soon as the federal and state orders are lifted.
Right now Pierce said that she does not have a date to reopen (since it is out of her hands) but if the stay-home orders expire at the end of the month, the town is planning on having a soft reopening of the beach strand and then officially reopening it to all. This could look like only a few access points reopening or allowing access to the beaches for exercise purposes, but no chairs or umbrellas, she said.
Not just residents, but leadership too
The call to reopen the town has found support online, but there are those pointing out that town leadership has a limited amount of power when it comes to reopening things.
“The Town is very limited on what they can do now that the County has shut down the beaches and all retail. The Town can’t override the county or State. Today I will be writing to all Town Council to ask them to push hard against the county, our County Commissioners to tell them to get their heads out of their asses and push back against Boseman, state reps to push back on Cooper and Cooper to #ReopenNC and let his order run out on April 30 so counties/cities can use their own judgment to reopen with precautions,” Chairman of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board Keith Bloemendaal wrote on the group’s page.
Bloemendaal is not the only government representative to take a public stance on the closures, County Commissioner Woody White has been adamant in his position decrying the shutdown at a larger level.
White has been vocal on Twitter as well as in local media, calling the actions taken by the state, as well as county leadership, a bridge too far.
“The public health crisis we face is real. But while reasonable measures are necessary to blunt its impact, decision makers should not cause further crisis by limiting civil liberties unnecessarily,” White wrote on Twitter.
He has even gone as far to say the government is overreacting and doing more harm than good and is calling for state lawmakers to ‘revisit’ the emergency declarations law when this is all said and done, saying there was a ‘systematic abuse by local officials.
He has also been critical of New Hanover County’s communication efforts calling a 20-second video ‘fear-mongering’ for asking people to ‘stay home and stay safe.’
“Our county twitter feed should not be pushing out these fear mongering messages. It should instead be pointing out that only 22 people out of 230,000 in @NewHanoverCo presently have Covid and that we should be resuming our lives. #reopennc,” White said on Twitter.
It is worth pointing out that White, when serving as Chairman of New Hanover County, issued state of emergency orders himself during emergency situations. However, they were not as sweeping or as prolonged as the current ones — nor did they meet with as much vocal protest.
Is the cure worse than the disease?
Leading healthcare officials across the country (and the world) have touted stay-home orders as the most effective way of slowing the spread of the virus, but not everyone is convinced.
Another, more widespread movement that started on Facebook has more than 25,000 members in a private group called Reopen NC is calling for the reopening of the state by the end of the month, when the federal social distancing orders issued by President Donald Trump are set to expire.
The closure of the state and the nation has brought the economy to a standstill as businesses deemed nonessential have closed and an unprecedented number of employees have been laid off.
Unemployment rates have skyrocketed and, at the state level, workers trying to apply for unemployment benefits are struggling. There is no question that the shutdown will have a lasting impact on the economy at both micro and macro levels, which leads to one of Commissioner White’s biggest messages on social media: is the cure worse than the disease?
As of April 13, the state has confirmed 4,816 cases of Covid-19 in 92 counties, 86 people have died and 313 people are currently in the hospital for the virus.
Nationally, there have been more than half-a-million reported cases and 21,942 deaths, however, it is worth noting that testing is not being conducted on every sick person or even on everyone showing symptoms, so the actual number of people infected is likely higher.
In New Hanover County there are 60 confirmed cases of the virus and so far, one death. On Monday, the county relaxed some restrictions but kept others in place.
“While there is some loosening of restrictions, it is still critical that our residents listen to our Public Health guidance,” Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Lisa Brown said in a press release. “The cases we are reporting are the people whose symptoms are more severe and are therefore having testing done, so remember that there are other people – outside of our 60 – who likely have this virus and have more mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. The more you can stay home and keep at least six feet of distance from others, the better your health and the health of those around you will be.”
White has even requested that New Hanover County Regional Medical Center release the actual number of patients being admitted for Covid-19, and how many cases are being treated there, but so far, the hospital has refused.
Tuesday morning, a NHRMC spokesperson shared several state statutes, as well as HIPAA, as reasons for keeping the case numbers in the hospital confidential. It’s worth noting that HIPPA, the federal medical records privacy law, does not apply to ‘de-personalized’ data, only that which specifically identifies an individual patient (i.e. the total number of flu cases is not covered by HIPAA, but an individual’s visit to a medical facility to treat flu symptoms is).
[Editor’s note: Port City Daily is reviewing the state statutes with legal counsel and will amend a request for the Covid-19 numbers if lawfully allowed.]