Albemarle County’s COVID-19 restrictions will now be in place until Nov. 18.
On Wednesday night, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors adopted a new, non-emergency ordinance — nearly the same as one it passed in July — that still makes masks mandatory in public, limits restaurants to 50% occupancy indoors and restricts certain public and private in-person gatherings to a maximum of 50 people.
The emergency ordinance adopted in July was set to expire Sept. 29
“We’ve been monitoring the positivity rates and the other data, and it’s quite possible we could come to the board well before Nov. 18,” County Attorney Greg Kamptner said. “… We’ll monitor the circumstances and situation between now and then but we would definitely bring it back for review on the board’s regular meeting date on Nov. 18.”
Earlier in the meeting, Ryan McKay, senior policy analyst for the Thomas Jefferson Health District, showed the board local COVID-19 date, including percent positivity over a seven-day average from Aug. 31, Sept. 7 and Sept. 14.
“The trend for Albemarle County since Aug. 31 has been a downward trend, both from positivity but also in number of cases,” he said.
The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity was 5.3% as of Sept.14, McKay said. On Sept. 7, it was 6.2% and on Aug. 31, it was 6.3%.
Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the health district, when asked about the county’s ordinance, said she thinks it has been helpful.
“Having [University of Virginia] students obviously has added an increasing burden, and we did see an uptick, and I don’t think we’re done seeing the increase in cases because of the increase in numbers of UVa students,” she said.
Bonds said she thought the area was entering a “really risky” period with the colder weather.
“People are going to move from those outdoor activities that were protected, because … your aerosols were widely spread, to indoor activities where there’s a much greater risk of infection,” she said. “Having the ordinances that you’ve put in place, I think it’s been really helpful in keeping large gatherings down in keeping the numbers down.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she is worried about local restaurants.
“I know a lot of them have outdoor dining, but I’m really concerned about independent restaurants, will they survive with outdoor dining and limited indoor, seating,” she said.
Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said the county is working on a program to help restaurants that have outdoor seating to be able to extend their season into the colder months.
“… With some improvements that will kind of help them continue to provide services outside in accordance with the current limitations on the inside capacity,” he said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she did recognize that there are some places going out of business.
“We don’t know that they would do any better if we didn’t have this ordinance, because I think that an awful lot of people would be … staying home more and we’re not going out as much and we’re wearing our masks, etc.,” she said. “So there’s some self-policing, too.”
An owner of a restaurant, winery, brewery or distillery that does not comply with the county’s indoor occupancy cap at 50% of the lowest occupancy load could be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, which could carry a $500 fine.
Those who do not comply with the mask mandate or those who attend or hold public and private in-person gatherings of more than 50 people could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could carry up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
On Thursday, county spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said that no one has been charged at this point.
“The intent of the ordinance has been and continues to be education engagement and not enforcement, and that remains true,” she said. “I think the enforcement posture that you’ve seen by there not being any charges is sort of the implementation of that strategy.”
The board also approved another update to its ordinance to ensure continuity of government, which will go into effect Oct. 1.
Some of the deadlines in the ordinance were updated, including requests for records under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Originally, the ordinance said that any deadline for responses to a request for records under the state’s FOIA requirements are “extended indefinitely as may be necessary.” That has been changed to “may be extended to the earliest date thereafter practicable.”
Online news outlet Charlottesville Tomorrow wrote about the indefinite extension, involved the University of Virginia First Amendment Clinic and eventually received the documents it requested from the county school division.
The Daily Progress has experienced delays in multiple FOIA responses regarding information about the county government, including one for supervisors’ emails that took more than 20 business days to receive.
Kamptner said there were “some media reports” that if someone “focused on the headlines” they could think that the county was “using the continuity of governance ordinance as a way to not respond to FOIA requests.”
“As it turns out, we’ve been able to meet the FOIA deadlines quite well,” he said. “There are some circumstances that may be problematic, but most of the records requests are electronic and as long as custodians of records are present and healthy, that really does not present a problem.”
Kamptner said there still could be situations “where it may be difficult, if not impossible, for the county to timely respond to FOIA requests,” like when it might be “dangerous or impracticable for the county to timely respond.”
“The reality is that even in normal times, when there are certain lawyer requests that are voluminous, they just work out an agreement with the requester and agree on a date and then just address it and respond according to that agreement,” he said.
The ordinance also adds that “an audio recording, video recording, or verbatim transcript of any electronic meeting must be made and retained as provided by law,” and that the recordings must be posted on the county’s website, a requirement that had been added to the governor’s budget earlier this year.
Many meeting recordings and transcripts are not yet available online. Kilroy said they have the recordings, but they are having issues getting them online.
“We are presently having an issue with the new website’s file size limits,” she said. “They don’t accommodate a very long video meeting, and we are currently working through how we can manage them.”
She said they are looking at using video site YouTube and sharing the links to the videos on the website.