(Kill Devil Hills, N.C.) — Dare County, North Carolina, which includes the Outer Banks, set up checkpoints at entrances to the county on March 17, which prohibited visitors from entering.
Only permanent residents, non-resident property owners and non-resident employees of businesses within the county were allowed in.
The Outer Banks is a popular vacation spot, but county leaders decided COVID-19 posed too great a threat to the island’s small population, to allow visitors to come and go as they please.
Caroline Boudreau, a Winthrop University senior, came to the Outer Banks for spring break on March 11 and has remained there since.
“When classes got put fully online, we decided the safest thing to do was stay here, isolate ourselves and take the social distancing very seriously,” said Boudreau.
Winthrop interim President George Hynd announced, March 20, that remote instruction would be extended through the end of the semester and graduation ceremonies would be postponed.
“I’m very sad that I can’t graduate and finish the rest of college at school. It’s not even safe to go back home. I’m from New Hampshire and it’s more severe up in the North, so my parents said ‘stay in the Outer Banks, it’s the best thing for you,’” said Boudreau, who will graduate with a degree in business administration and a concentration in healthcare management.
“This is for sure going to effect the job market and the future (of healthcare). For example, today I could not go to my doctor’s office (in Rock Hill) so we Facetimed. Telehealth is going to be huge, that will be the biggest thing. Nurses and doctors will have more video conference calls. The job future will be looking different,” she said.
While some may have found the restrictions in Dare County extreme, they may have served their intended purpose, as there have only been 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death in the county.
Logan Marshall is a frequent traveler, who makes films about surfing and has lived on the Outer Banks his entire life. He said he was glad Dare County decided to close the bridges to visitors.
“I think it was a good idea from the get-go. We are such a small community — not necessarily by space, we have a lot of land here — but when it comes to people, we don’t have as many, which means we don’t have a ton of supplies,” said Marshall.
Having a career that relies on the ability to travel puts Marshall in a tough spot. He was recently on a trip filming in Hawaii, from Jan. 10 until March 4, before he returned home to the Outer Banks.
Two days later Marshall traveled to Puerto Rico, with the intent of staying for 10 days, but he returned after four days due to the pandemic.
“It’s pretty much unemployed me. I can have this job here (in the Outer Banks), but the industry is nowhere near as big in surfing as it needs to be for me to continue to make a career out if it, which is why I travel,” he said.
“I travel pretty much non-stop. I had just come home from Hawaii and even in the airport then it was kind of weird. I went to Puerto Rico and we ended up coming home seven days early. COVID was getting bad and we felt safer leaving when we did.”
Max Lingg, a certified pool and spa operator, said the county’s restrictions have affected his job, which depends on the influx of visitors.
“The direct effects have been shortness of work. We don’t have any renters coming in as of this point, because of the bridges being blocked to non-residential property owners and non-residents,” said Lingg.
“If they can’t get in that means that we can’t go and clean the pools, because there’s no one to pay for the job to be done.”
Dare County began allowing non-resident property owners (NRPO) to return May 4, if they received a valid entry permit.
“As of right now we’re kind of on a standstill. It’s soon to be that they are letting NRPOs in and once that happens, we will get a slower inflow of work, but it’s not going to be at the point it should be at this time of year,” said Lingg.
“We should have already had full weeks of work. Easter weekend is a big weekend for us typically and that should have been the start, basically to our summer and work year, as far as cleaning pools goes.”
The impact on businesses has caused many to question whether Dare County made the right decision to close to visitors.
“Everyone has a different opinion on it. We’re just trying to get back to work as soon as we can, but we haven’t seen any signs of progress lately, so that’s where we’re at,” said Lingg.
“There is not really any end to this in sight so far, they keep saying June we’re going to start opening up to renters and I feel like that’s just going to get keep getting pushed back and back. Especially since no one actually knows what’s going on,” he said.
However, Marshall was more cautious.
“If you’re a visitor and you are coming in, you’re not coming down for vacation. You shouldn’t be going out and playing putt putt or whatever people do here on vacation. Treat it like it’s a hurricane,” said Marshall.
Additionally, “humanity before economy” is a phrase many residents have used to describe the situation.
Dare County says it will start allowing visitors May 16 and “checkpoints will no longer be in place restricting access to the county.”
Editor’s note: Ellie Marindin is a senior mass communication student who is sheltering at her family’s home in the Outer Banks during the pandemic.