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Prince Edward board enacts emergency ordinance

Prince Edward County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at a special meeting Friday, Aug. 21, to enact an emergency ordinance instituting temporary measures for certain gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Wade Bartlett

The ordinance states all public and private in-person gatherings of more than 50 persons are prohibited, though there is a list of exceptions —

• gatherings for religious exercise including, but not limited to, religious ceremonies;

• wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions;

• funerals;

• “expressive activity” on a public street, public sidewalk and demonstrations on county property and on other public property as permitted by a special event permit, if required, issued by the county administrator or their designee;

• educational institutions; and

• restaurants and other licensed establishments serving food and/or drink.

The ordinance states persons working at gatherings, either as employees or independent contractors, do not count towards the limit on the number of persons at a gathering.

Section 9 of the ordinance, which highlights general exceptions, says nothing in the ordinance will limit the provision of health care or medical services; access to essential services for county residents, such as food banks; the operations of media; or the operations of government.

Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett said the emergency ordinance went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, and will expire at 11:59 p.m. Oct. 20.

He also noted the board will be holding a public hearing at its Sept. 8 meeting before voting on whether or not to enact a longer-lasting version of the ordinance.

The county emergency ordinance does not address any rules with regard to face coverings. Bartlett said the county made this decision because the county sheriff pointed out the difficulties in enforcement, and the governor has already addressed the issue via executive order.

In terms of penalties and enforcement, the county emergency ordinance states that a violation of its rules on gatherings by the owner or tenant of the private property on which a gathering is located, after first being warned by a law enforcement officer to disperse the gathering and failing to do so, is punishable as a civil penalty of not more than $300.

A violation of the ordinance by any person attending the gathering, after first being warned by law enforcement to disperse from the gathering because it exceeds the limitation for a gathering and having failed to disperse after a reasonable period of time, not to exceed two minutes, is punishable as a civil penalty of not more than $150.

The ordinance states its limitations on gatherings do not apply when a more restrictive requirement in an executive order or an Order of Public Health Emergency is in effect.

The board also met in closed session during the Aug. 21 special meeting to discuss personnel matters unrelated to the county administrator position, Bartlett said. The board took no action after this session.