Monday afternoon, the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County passed ordinances aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Though the ordinances — to be in effect from Aug.1 to Sep. 29 — reduce most public gatherings and more strongly enforce face coverings, they don’t apply to schools. Meanwhile, both city and county school boards are expected to vote on their plans this coming Thursday.
Key points in the ordinances include:
- Face coverings/masks must be worn in all indoor public spaces and in all outdoor public spaces where 6 feet of physical distancing is not able to be maintained.
- Gatherings will be restricted to 50 people, with limited exceptions.
- Food establishments, wineries, breweries, and distilleries will be limited in indoor spaces to 50% capacity with a 50-person maximum.
The ordinances may walk back some of the loosened restrictions in the state’s Phase III of reopening, like reducing gatherings from 250 to 50 people, but they are not a reversion to Phase II. Schools— to include the University of Virginia— are also outlined in the ordinances as being exempt from the 50-person gathering limit.
“I hope our public … would look at this as what I call a ‘Phase 2.5,’” supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said. “I think we’ve made a lot of adjustments that fit our community, that fit us, and will help us help our businesses and help keep our businesses safe.”
The ordinances come as recent weeks have shown an uptick in cases, with the Thomas Jefferson Health District reporting 48 new cases from over the weekend along with the board and council recently reiterating caution.
Supervisor Donna Price likened local government to “walking on a tightrope” in taking actions that could enhance public health and safety, while understanding the economic impact shutdowns have been. As the City Council and Board of Supervisors find their balance, the city and county school boards are expected to make further decisions surrounding the upcoming school year this Thursday — a balance that is met with myriad concerns from parents.
As the school boards prepare to make decisions for the upcoming academic year, other questions remain in the air — such as who will be notified in the instance students test positive for COVID-19. In the meantime, options that are being explored include a hybrid of in-person and online learning or online learning for all students.
County resident Sally Duncan expressed concerns about the long-term health effects of the coronavirus and is still weighing her options of whether she wants to send her children back to school.
“Kids are gross, college kids are gross. People sneeze and cough and touch things. You don’t notice how germy everyone is until you’re looking for it,” Duncan said “If we sent the kids [to school], our assumption is that we are all going to get sick. Not knowing how it [COVID-19] would affect us and the kids long term, that’s my sticking point. That’s the risk I have to either accept or not do.”
Duncan has homeschooled her three children in the past but had enrolled them last year as she had returned to school herself for her master’s degree. A resident of a more rural part of the county, she said broadband also proved to be an issue for her family when schools moved online in March.
Charlottesville resident Joanna Jennings, a social worker with children enrolled at Jackson-Via Elementary had previously supported schools resuming in-person learning, but now feels more “complicated” about the situation.
“I’d been hoping that the schools would be able to figure this out, and what we’ve realized is that they would need a lot more support in order to do in-person,” Jennings said.
She said she’s thought more about how unsafe reopening schools could be and is unsure what will be best for her family and other families in the area.
“There’s nothing that seems like it really is the best course of action, at least for us. … What I’ve come to realize is that a society we have made schools, the place where kids get free, get their meals, they get mental health support and they get education and all kinds of other services,” Jennings said. “And it’s just, it’s a very complex overlap with so many different systems. And in order for that to work in the middle of a pandemic, it’s just going to take a lot more, I think, institutional and governmental support that we just don’t have.”