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Editor’s note: The Observer will publish a comprehensive list of what’s open and closed in a future post.
By Connie Leinbach
As of 5 p.m. Friday, Phase 1 of North Carolina’s Stay at Home order became effective, which allows limited opening of businesses.
Ocracoke Island is gearing up to receive visitors–May 11 for non-resident property owners and May 16 for vacationers–but the island remains in a state of flux, mostly due to continued rebuilding from Hurricane Dorian damage.
The May 16 opening caught many islanders off guard as they were thinking that May 21 would be the date since that’s what the Ocracoke Control Group had recommended.
That date was discussed at the Hyde County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, but the commissioners voted to have Earl Pugh Jr., board chair, negotiate with Dare County for a coordinated opening date before Memorial Day.
Pugh, in an interview Friday evening, said he spoke to Dare County Commissioner Board Chair Bob Woodard, who said their control group met Wednesday morning to decide on an opening date.
“Woodard called back, and they decided to open on May 16,” Pugh said. “I had a head’s up of about an hour from Dare. Then I went to Swan Quarter to sign the order to get the press release out.”
All of the recommendations from the Ocracoke Control Group were to coordinate with Dare County since most Ocracoke visitors travel through Dare to get here, he said.
And now, it’s a scramble, noted Kari Styron, rental manager at Ocracoke Island Realty. That’s because they had been expecting a May 21 opening and had canceled rentals up to May 21.
“It really caught everyone off guard,” she said in her office awaiting to attend a Zoom meeting with 100 homeowners. “Our phones are blowing up and I don’t have all of our staff back.”
The emails are piling up, too.
“Our owners are only getting five days here,” she said about the May 11 opening for NRPOs.
She said they will do a mass email out to the database regarding availability for next week.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s so difficult,” she said. “Now the owners are upset.”
Other business owners, who spoke off the record, are concerned about the divisiveness that has cropped up among those wanting to open and those not; non-resident property owners feeling they’re being unfairly kept away; islanders afraid the virus will be brought to Ocracoke and the Outer Banks.
Some businesses, such as Mermaid’s Folly, which is taking a wait-and-see attitude, will not be open May 16.
Pam’s Pelican B&B will be open but will not serve breakfast, “because I can’t keep (my customers) six feet away from each other,” said owner Pam Gouyer.
Others will be open.
“We’re prepared and will open May 11,” said Jenny Mason, manager of the Ocracoke Island Trading Company, which is right beside Ride The Wind Surf Shop and which has been open.
Mason, who will soon be a new parent and who takes care of her 92-year-old grandmother, said she’s taking serious precautions to limit exposure.
“We have Plexiglass (at the register); we’ll limit the number of people inside,” she said. “Everyone will wear masks and we’ll have hand sanitizer. The number one is to protect ourselves. We’re just gonna roll with it.”
Hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
The Ocracoke Seafood Company, locally known as the Fish House, hopes to be open for business to sell fresh fish retail in two weeks.
“People are clamoring to get here,” said Pattie Johnson Plyler, store manager, as she continued getting the newly rebuilt space ready from Hurricane Dorian’s wrath.
“We had four feet of water in here,” she said, noting the store has new floors, walls, cabinets and food coolers.
Businesses are taking social distancing seriously.
The Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar is working on having a take-out window, said owner Katie Mitchell, “because no one can go inside. And we’ll have photos of merchandise for sale.”
Ocracoke Coffee Company is putting finishing touches on it’s inside makeover.
“As soon as the island is opens, we’re ready to go,” said Clayton Jernigan, co-owner with Drew Batts of Jerniman’s, which has a campground and sells gas on the island. The pair and their families have been remodeling the campground area and building since Dorian hit.
They were ready to receive campers in February, Jernigan said in a recent interview.
“But that all fell through in March,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 crisis.
The spot for gasoline sales, Jernigan said that the gas pump owner, Beasley Enterprises in Ahoskie, is set to begin replacing the gas pumps on Monday.
“There will be fuel available Monday, however there WILL NOT be fuel available for a few days later in the week,” he said in a Facebook post. “Please plan accordingly and be patient while we get this much needed upgrade to the island.”
The Ocracoke Oyster Company has been renovating the former Ocracoke Bar & Grille next to Sorella’s Pizza & Pasta since last fall and will soon be open, said George Turner, co-owner.
“When I’m open, I’m open,” he said, drill in hand. “I’ve got about 85% of my six projects done.”
He and his co-owner wife Janille are still working out seating but when they open, they will start with a limited menu for take-out only per the COVID-19 restrictions.
The Sand Dollar Motel, with a lot of hurricane damage repair still unfinished, expects to open mid-June.
“The phone rings off the hook every day,” said co-owner Jill Gunter.
Howard’s Pub has reopened for take-out only through May 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The limited menu is on the Howard’s Pub Facebook page.
“We’ll continue with take out until we have the go ahead to open,” said Ann Warner, owner, who added that this is Howard’s Pub’s 30th year in business.
After that, on May 16 when visitors arrive, they will expand days and hours.
Daphne Bennink, owner of the Back Porch Restaurant, said she doesn’t plan to open for sit-down service soon, but will continue to sell fresh and cooked foods in what she calls the Back Porch Market.
“I’ve been selling things I can get fresh,” she said, such as fish, meats, specialty flours, and has been making family-style meals to go: pot pie, steaks, homemade soups, fish platters, full and half roast chicken, and sticky toffee pudding.
Her offering of fresh-baked round bread, or boules, has been popular, she said.
“People love my bread,” she said, and about her meals, “It’s just good, homemade food.”
Between the social distancing requirements and because everyone is unemployed makes it financially difficult to open the restaurant now.
“I’m just not comfortable with having a public space with this situation,” she said.
State cases of COVID-19
In North Carolina, there are currently 13,868 cases of COVID-19 in 99 counties. There have been 527 fatalities associated with COVID-19. Currently, the state is reporting 515 hospitalizations from COVID-19 illness.
Moving Into Phase 1 of the State’s Stay at Home Order
Beginning at 5 p.m. today (May 8), Phase 1 of North Carolina’s Stay at Home Order becomes effective. More businesses can open and people are allowed to venture out for more reasons. Businesses that do open have to implement social distancing and cleaning rules, just like those currently in place at grocery and hardware stores. State parks can also open, but with limits on the number of people who can gather there.
Most Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches remain open for the purpose of staying healthy while following federal and state guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Beach users can help keep these areas open by staying at least 6 feet from each other and by not creating a gathering of 10 or more people in a single location. Additionally, vehicles on the beach should be parked roughly 20 feet apart. For current beach access information, go to: http://go.nps.gov/beachaccess. Off-road vehicle permits can be purchased online at www.recreation.gov.
As services are limited, the National Park Service urges visitors to continue to practice Leave No Trace principles, including pack-in and pack-out, to keep outdoor spaces safe and healthy.
Please continue to support our local restaurants. Restaurants continue to be able to offer service only through take out, drive-through and delivery. No sit-down dining is allowed under the State’s Executive Order 138.
Face Masks and The Three W’s
COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and remains a significant public health threat. The virus may be spread unknowingly by an asymptomatic individual. For the protection of those around you, it is strongly encouraged that you wear a mask in public settings where social distancing cannot be maintained. Please note that some businesses may require customers to wear masks for entry into the business. Always follow the three W’s when you leave your home: Wear a face covering, Wash your hands, and Wait six feet apart.