Albemarle County boards, authority and commissions that are still meeting virtually will not go back to in-person meetings until September as COVID-19 cases are expected to climb.
Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and School Board resumed in-person meetings in April, but with COVID-19 cases increasing, county staff has recommended that all other appointed bodies not come back in-person until the late summer.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors supported the recommendation.
Authorities and decision-making bodies — the Broadband Authority, the Architectural Review Board, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Board of Equalization and the Economic Development Authority — will have members resume in-person in September, with optional virtual access for attendees. This is later than what was initially recommended.
All other appointed bodies that Albemarle oversees, such as Community Advisory Committees, will also come back in-person in September for members as well as the public, with no virtual option.
According to data published by the state, the Blue Ridge Health District area, which includes Albemarle, is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. The seven-day average for cases in the district is 120, similar to numbers in mid-September and late December.
County spokesperson Emily Kilroy said Albemarle staff has been looking at the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute’s COVID-19 models, which are forecasting a significant surge of cases in the coming weeks.
“Case rates are not expected to reach levels seen during the January wave,” the institute said in a weekly report dated May 13. “But they will likely exceed those seen in pre-Omicron waves.”
The model shows a peak in June for the state that is as high as that of the last wave in January. The report, however, says that that is misleading because there were so many unreported cases of the Omicron variant.
“To put it simply, the Omicron wave was much, much larger than even the record-shattering number of identified cases suggests,” the report says. “So while the model projects a similar number of identified cases to the Omicron wave, it expects far fewer infections. And that is the important factor.”
Assistant County Executive Trevor Henry said due to the COVID-19 data and models, county staff recommended the Sept. 1 date for all additional boards and commissions.
“Staff will continue to monitor the metrics,” he said. “We meet weekly on this. If there are considerations that would adjust this recommendation or considerations the board would want us to evaluate, we could come back in the second meeting of August for a follow up.”
Andy Herrick, deputy county attorney, said state rules were amended to authorize continuity of government ordinances for up to one year. That would allow virtual meetings to continue for an additional year.
Because the county’s ordinance was adopted prior to the amendment, Herrick said Albemarle only has the original six additional months. County staff members are not recommending an extension at this time.
“We’re hoping that we’re able to return to full government operations at the end of the six months that our continuity of government ordinance currently allows,” he said.
A bill in the General Assembly that would allow boards, commissions and committees to meet all virtually a limited number of times per year was signed into law, but was changed to exclude all-virtual meetings of local governing bodies, local school boards, planning commissions, architectural review boards and zoning appeals boards, Herrick said.
“So despite our hope that pandemic might allow for greater enabling authority for all virtual meetings, the General Assembly giveth and the General Assembly taketh away. There is additional authority, but not much of it can be enjoyed by local governing bodies,” Herrick said.
Albemarle legal staff will come back to the board with updated proposed rules of procedure for the board’s consideration prior to the effective date of the new state law.