DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — Dare County has been closed to visitors and non-resident property owners for more than a month in an effort to protect its residents and workers from COVID-19.
As a lawsuit simmers between some non-resident property owners and the county — in which the property owners allege their constitutional rights were violated by restricting access — Dare County has made a plan to begin allowing some people back in.
Dare County and the Dare County Control Group have created a phased plan to lift the restrictions on entry to Dare. The first phase will allow the entry of non-resident property owners starting with some owners May 4.
“It is critical for everyone to adhere to the safety measures and regulations specified in this plan,” the county wrote in a bulletin Tuesday evening.
Dare County is not the only locality planning to loosen restrictions on access to the Outer Banks.
On Monday night, the Currituck County Board of Commissioners also voted to reopen the county to non-resident property owners starting Thursday.
Currituck is accessible by a bridge that leads into Dare County, and commissioners said they would need to speak with Dare to figure out how reopening access would be done.
Cases in Dare County have been stable for more than a week, the county said. Dare reported 11 cases Tuesday, while Currituck reported two.
The re-entry plan
Dare County will open to non-resident property owners who have a valid entry permit with matching government-issued ID on the schedule below:
- Beginning Monday, May 4 at 6 a.m.: Entry begins and is ongoing for non- resident property owners whose last name begins with A – I
- Beginning Wednesday, May 6 at 6 a.m.: Entry begins and is ongoing for non- resident property owners whose last name begins with J – R
- Beginning Friday, May 8 at 6 a.m.: Entry begins for non-resident property owners whose last name begins with S – Z
Entry permits for non-resident property owners can be obtained at www.darenc.com/entry.
Some restrictions will remain in place, at least temporarily. Here’s the list, per Dare County:
- Dare County’s Stay Home – Stay Healthy order has been extended to May 22, 2020.
- North Carolina’s Stay at Home order – in place until at least April 29, 2020.
- If you are sick, stay home.
- Mass gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer individuals.
- Travel only for essential needs.
- Only have direct contact with members of your immediate household.
- All essential retailers must adhere to the Governor’s Executive Order No. 131 and comply with restrictions on the number of individuals allowed entry based on square footage of space.
People are also required to wear a mask or cloth face-covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores.
Non-resident property owners should also bring enough supplies to sustain themselves in their homes as much as possible, including groceries, prescriptions, paper products and other essential items.
Those with questions should contact the COVID-19 Call Center at 252.475.5008. The Dare County COVID-19 Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Questions on entry can also be sent to COVID19@darenc.com.
Lawsuit by non-resident property owners
Dare County is still facing a federal lawsuit that claims the county violated the constitutional rights of six non-resident property owners. Two of them are from Poquoson, and one is from Richmond. All three refused to make any comment when called by 10 On Your Side.
The suit seeks to “protect the right to travel, to engage in a common calling or occupation, and to obtain medical treatment as is guaranteed to them as citizens of the United States by the Privileges and Immunities Clause in the United States Constitution.
The six have hired Raleigh attorney Chuck Kitchen.
“You have the right to travel, you have the right to go to your own property, you have a right to enjoy that property and that is essentially what we are alleging,” Kitchen said.
In the complaint, Kitchen argues Dare County has violated the Privileges and Immunity Clause which states people are entitled to the same privileges as they travel from state to state. If you live in Virginia and you travel to North Carolina you expect the same privileges and immunities that residents of North Carolina enjoy, Kitchen said.
“We want Dare County to let the property owners into their property just like any other property owner in Dare County, and we want them to stop having these roadblocks and checkpoints which turn away the non-resident owners,” he said ahead of Dare County releasing its re-entry plan Tuesday.
Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said he has supported the restrictions.
10 On Your Side found Tony Bruno and his wife Sheri walking in Southern Shores.
“As full-time residents, we agree with the restriction, and we understand the frustration, but it makes sense to us to restrict access to the county,” Bruno said.
Southern Shores resident Paula Ripley said it’s easy to let your guard down when going to the beach — and that might be why the restrictions have been wise.
“I do not want to be prejudice to a section of the country or a person from a certain place coming down, but it is hard to imagine … a whole lot of people going on our beaches like during Spring Break… When you come to the beach what is the first thing you do? You let down and you relax and maybe we aren’t as mindful about things… We let down our guard,” she said.
Kitchen further argues the checkpoint allows passage to residents with proper identification from Dare, Currituck, Hyde, and Tyrrell — and maybe they have COVID-19 anyway.
“Look, you may have COVID-19 driving through the checkpoint from (one of those four counties), but if you are an out-of-state resident (like my clients) you cannot come in even though you are perfectly well,” he said.
10 On Your Side asked Kitchen will his lawsuit go away as soon as Dare County opens access to non-resident property owners.
“No, it will not go away… There is going to be another wave of this virus, and they could institute the same thing all over again. So we think it is important for the court to rule as to whether what Dare County is doing is a constitutional act, and whether it can be repeated,” he said.
Kitchen also argues the restrictions were wrongly instituted as a resolution and not an ordinance,
“An ordinance has a force of law, resolutions are actions of a government body that are more (administrative),” he said.
It is also clear this has been a divisive issue on social media, including comments like this one: “Mandatory evacuations of all non-residents should be issued NOW. Like a hurricane. They got us in this mess now get us out.”