The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors wants to take the locality back to Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late Wednesday night, the board expressed concerns about the increasing COVID-19 positivity rate for the last seven days, as well as University of Virginia students coming back to the area.
“That’s a local decision that [County Attorney] Greg [Kamptner] says we have the authority to make under our … special emergency,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said.
Virginia moved to the third phase or reopening July 1, which allowed for social gatherings of up to 250 people, up from 50 people in the second phase. It also allows for restaurants and retail businesses to operate at full capacity, whereas those businesses were limited to 50% capacity in Phase Two, and allows expanded capacity at entertainment venues and fitness centers.
Earlier this week, Charlottesville officials said they are discussing a return to Phase Two.
It’s unclear if localities can change phases without permission from Gov. Ralph Northam. His office did not respond to questions Thursday.
Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, told the board Wednesday that Albemarle’s rate of positivity for COVID-19 tests is slightly higher than the district’s average.
“I think something that is especially concerning right now is the gradual increase in our rate of positivity — it continues to climb,” she said. “We are now at 8.4% for the district … We’ve broken it out on the back end for Albemarle, and Albemarle’s positivity rate average for the last seven days actually exceeds the district’s, at 8.5%.”
Mallek said Thursday that she wants discussions to move to the next step of taking action.
“I am very concerned that we are watching daily numbers increase rapidly, and we have lost the steady flatness that we had for more than a month because we’ve opened up too fast,” she said.
County Executive Jeff Richardson and Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said they have to figure out how the county would implement and enforce Phase Two regulations.
“There is a good deal about the change in guidelines from Phase Two to Phase Three that, frankly, that as the [Incident Management Team], I don’t know how we would be able to enforce the regulations with regard to capacity within a restaurant, for example, or for retail establishments,” Walker said.
“I appreciate the county attorney’s opinion that we have the authority to do that, but we really need to understand what it means in terms of how it is that we enforce that, when in fact we are deviating from what the state guidelines are,” he said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she wants to focus on reducing the size of allowed social gatherings back to 50 people.
Walker said staff in the county and other parts of the region have talked about regulations regarding size of gatherings.
“We think there is a place we can get to as a region,” he said. “We can make some changes that would enable us to effectively regulate and enforce crowd size that is less than the 250. We haven’t gotten there yet. But I think there’s reason for us to think that that is very achievable.”
Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said he wants to wait for more information and that the board could schedule a special meeting for next week.
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