Nichols quells fears of COVID and virtual learning issues

Paul Nichols appeared before the Board of Supervisors Monday night to soothe concerns over COVID-19 and technical issues the schools had been facing during this first week of virtual learning. Nichols stated that he has been monitoring the COVID numbers in Mecklenburg County, and as of Sunday evening, Mecklenburg County has dropped back into orange on the COVID risk scale.

As a reminder, the scale calculates the intensity of control efforts needed based on the number of new daily cases. Mecklenburg County has seen a slowing rate of infection after the latest bought of outbreaks that net over 100 cases in a week.

Mecklenburg County Public Schools have seen a few problems arise due to virtual learning measures. Nichols told the Board that the county originally ordered 450 hotspots based on data collected from a survey that was sent out in early summer inquiring about students’ access to internet and phone service.

Nichols further clarified, “We had approximately 375 responses to that survey that said they would need some type of internet access device because they didn’t already have it and they did live in an area that a cell phone would pick up. We ordered anticipating that there would be persons who may not have gotten the information or understood it correctly—we ordered 450 to take care of the 375. Then, when the first day of school started…we had an additional 200 requests and we don’t have any way of surveying them to get specifics…we had to order extra.” He also relayed that Mecklenburg County would let the families on the waitlist for devices know when the new devices have come in.

Mrs. Lundy voiced concerns that students would not be allowed to make up work missed while waiting for new devices; Nichols responded that students still have the option to do work in areas where public internet is available such as the schools and libraries, but also stated that students will be allowed to make up any work missed while they do not have a device.

As for the new school update, Nichols relayed that, “major earth-moving operations are nearly complete…The concrete has been poured in the middle-school complex area, the gyms, high school gyms, the kitchen and cafeteria. That’s all at the back end as you look in from the road. We start working on concrete in the classrooms this week.” There have been no delays in work on the new school attributed to COVID-19; the completion date for the school building itself still looks to be late Spring.

Regarding the Whittles Mill matter, the Board voted unanimously to support keeping the Mill with the understanding that it “is a historical, educational and recreational tourism spot.” Mr. Wayne Carter vouched for the Town of South Hill’s interest in keeping the Mill, and Chairman Glenn Barbour agreed with the sentiment.

The Board of Supervisors has returned to hosting virtual meetings for the time being due to spikes in COVID-19 numbers around the county. Jon Taylor, Director of Emergency Services updated the Board on said numbers; there were approximately 626 overall cases Monday night, with roughly 513 recovered. Taylor said that Mecklenburg has stood for a while at 33 deaths attributed to the virus.

That leaves about 80 currently active cases in the county, which he shared is about four time the amount of active cases there were when Mecklenburg initially reopened offices to the public. Those 80 cases are community cases that are not attributed to an outbreak at a facility. Taylor shared, “Hopefully that starts to trend further down.”

Mr. Taylor also shared with the Board that they are looking to order a large inflatable tent to be used for drive-through testing and vaccinations with money granted by the CARES Act. They are also working on getting mobile wifi units to place in areas where there is no fiber-optic coverage or good service in the county.

Jacob Corwin, the General Registrar, was also in attendance at the Monday meeting. He informed the Board of November General election matters. Corwin shared, “currently we’ve got 1,720 [absentee ballots] which eclipses any amount of by-mail voting we’ve ever done. In fact, it surpasses the total amount of absentee voting for the 2008 election. It is about 90% of the 2012 election, and we’re at 80% of what we did in 2016. And we haven’t even started in-person voting yet. So we have been busy, needless to say!”

In-person voting will be starting this Friday, September 18. Corwin stated, “We’re expecting a very large turnout the first day; I’m guessing about 200 people will show up at my office on the first day. That’ll be very much record changing for us!” Regarding concerns over drop boxes for ballots, Corwin said that the office is required to have a drop box due to new laws. The drop box will be located inside his office, and it will be under their watch and only available during business hours.

The Board expressed concerns about the potential cost of these new election requirements, and Corwin estimated, “the postage [for this election] will be the biggest change. For a presidential election we always gear up with a few extra people prepared at every single precinct. Every election in the county—no matter which one it is—costs about $2,500. This one I’m guessing will cost about $2,800 or $3,000.”

Mr. Corwin also told the Board what the office plans on using CARES Act funding for. He stated that they are, “planning on getting new poll booths with [the money]. The electronic poll booths can be quite expensive; also we had a part-time person that had to come in and start helping us just because of the astronomic work load that we’ve had recently, so that’s what we’re intending on using it for. There’s also another grant that I didn’t get to talk about today. It’s a non-match funding grant through the Center for Tech and Civic Life…We are just about done applying for that grant.”

The Board also passed proposed easements for the Nocarva subdivision and the Hinton Mills subdivision. Additionally, special exception permit applications were approved for William and Linda York, and Jacob and Shawna King. The Board made a motion to further discuss a special exception permit application for Fred’s Towing and Transport.