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Bertie backs governor’s directive

WINDSOR – In an effort to launch its battle vs. COVID-19, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners devised a plan here last Thursday to issue a stay at home order that would become effective this week.

As it turns out, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, one day later, directed all state citizens to do exactly what Bertie officials were thinking. On Friday, Cooper placed his signature on Executive Order # 121 – a stay at home directive that was put into place on March 30 for a period of 30 days (unless repealed or replaced).

The Bertie Commissioners met again on Monday to weigh their version of the stay at home order with what the governor proposed. Both meetings (March 26 and 30) followed social distancing guidelines with a limited number of county officials in the same room while others took part by phone or online connection.

“In our last meeting, we moved to prepare a possible [stay at home] resolution ourselves in case the governor did not produce a resolution,” stated Commission Chairman Ronald “Ron” Wesson. “We had a little insight that the governor may issue a resolution, and he did. The only question for us is whether or not our resolution was more restrictive than the governor’s. In his press conference [last week] he said if counties have more restrictive resolutions then those would precede his [executive order].

“In comparing the two [Bertie’s vs. Gov. Cooper’s], do we think that the governor’s resolution is sufficient for us, especially if we include our bullet points in addition to the governor’s resolution,” Wesson asked.

Lloyd Smith, a Windsor attorney who serves as legal counsel to the Bertie Commissioners, advised he saw the governor’s order as “no more stringent, no more lax than ours.”

“I still think you need to send your bullet points out, just so people will understand them,” Smith suggested as he referenced a short, concise listing of the key points of the governor’s order as complied by the commissioners.

The attorney added that he had received at least 50 phone calls from individuals asking if fishing was permitted during this month-long stay at home order.

“I know that sounds strange, but think about that it’s rock [striped bass] season and that’s a big deal,” Smith said. “I guess if you can get there [to the water] without [more than one fisherman] using the same pick-up truck, it’s like playing golf, it may be okay. But that’s something I can ask [the state].”

Commissioner Tammy Lee asked Smith while he was getting clarification about fishing, could he also inquire about churches holding drive-up services [where parishioners remain in their vehicle or stand alongside their vehicle while adhering to social distancing guidelines: standing six feet apart].

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls about drive-up churches,” Lee stated. “We have a lot of churches to hold services that way.”

Smith said he would inquire about that as well.

“I find it difficult to believe that as long as you are attempting [to practice] social distancing that any law enforcement officer is going to actually take any action, at least initially until we see where we’re heading [with the governor’s order],” Smith noted.

“I don’t see a problem with a drive-up church because you’re not violating social distancing,” said Commissioner Ernestine Bazemore.

There was also discussion among the board members regarding employees of essential businesses who are required to report to work and/or whose line of work requires them to travel. One particular line of work in Bertie County that will become extremely busy in the days and weeks ahead is farming.

Smith said there are forms available online for employers to download and fill out, which can be displayed inside a worker’s vehicle that designates them as employed by an essential business.

Wesson said he is aware of businesses that have already supplied their employees with some sort of identification, classifying them as a worker with a business deemed essential under the governor’s executive order.

In closing, Wesson wanted to make it very clear that Bertie County has no curfew.

“This order [by the governor] is a stay at home order; it’s not a quarantine,” he stressed. “We will post the governor’s order to our website and post our bullet points, which are much easier to read.”

The bullet points are listed at the top of the order and are as follows:

The Order urges North Carolina residents:

  1. Not to go to work unless you are providing essential services as defined by this Order
  2. Not to visit friends and family if there is no urgent need
  3. Not to maintain less than 6 feet of distance from others when you go out
  4. Not to visit loved ones in the hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility or other

residential care facility, except for limited exceptions as provided on the facility websites

  1. Not to travel except for essential travel and activities

There is no curfew, but this order directs all North Carolina residents to shelter at home and limit movements outside of their homes beyond essential needs and for those providing essential services. [See the complete Executive Order at www.co.bertie.nc.us for a listing of essential services/businesses).