With an eye peeled toward rising coronavirus cases, Mount Airy officials have decided to leave a special privilege for businesses in the city limits — particularly restaurants — in place indefinitely.
This involves an option allowed in the wake of a state of emergency issued in March 2020 which restricted all restaurants to carry-out, drive-through and delivery service only — with dining areas closed.
As an alternative, officials begin permitting businesses including dining establishments to have dedicated parking spaces for outside service, according to discussion at an Aug. 19 council meeting when that provision was revisited.
Those spots, normally used by the general public, were reserved in front of businesses to better accommodate carry-outs/pickups.
The meeting discussion was initiated by Mayor Ron Niland, who said he had received complaints about the reserved spots continuing to be used for this purpose and questioned whether that amendment to the state of emergency should be dropped.
This led to the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voting unanimously to table action on the matter indefinitely.
One reason for that is the continuing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, with cases recently surging after it appeared for a time the crisis was subsiding.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a very rapid increase in sickness rates, particularly in our younger folks, and younger children, and folks that have not been vaccinated,” Niland said.
The mayor believes no additional stringent measures are needed at this time, while also encouraging citizens to be respectful of others who might be vulnerable — “and try to do the best job they can to prevent future outbreaks.”
Yet with the pandemic at a kind of crossroads, Niland said he wanted the board to consider rescinding the parking privilege for outside service and “let basic business take care of itself.”
Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison, who is associated with the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc., said at the meeting there are a small number of entities still using this method.
“So I would advocate for allowing that to continue,” Morrison told city officials.
Niland pointed to what he termed another side of the coin, indicating that the complaints he has received concern certain businesses essentially putting out signs reserving spots for their customers to the detriment of others.
“I mean, this is just what I have heard,” he said.
“The question is, does the current state of emergency require (that) special ordinance — that’s what I would say, not that’s it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Niland added. “I’m not trying to get in the middle of anything here.”
One reason Niland said he introduced the possible dropping of the reserved parking provision is that customers are now free to go inside restaurants both to dine there and pick up orders.
“I don’t know under the current state of regulation that that’s required.”
“So the whole reason for this amendment is gone,” Commissioner Tom Koch agreed regarding its original intent.
However, the board’s Jon Cawley offered a reason why the parking privilege should be left intact for now.
“What happens if the governor declares in a day, a week, that we are going backward again?” Cawley said of past COVID restrictions being reimposed.
“Then I think we’d have to deal with it again, probably,” Niland responded.
The commissioners ultimately decided to table the issue and wait to see what happens in the coming weeks.
“We don’t know where we’re going,” Koch reasoned.
“We know that we’ve taken a turn for the worse,” he said of the disease, due to the emergence of its Delta variant. “So there’s no hurry.”
The discussion on the parking provision led to commissioners voicing concerns about what Koch termed a “miserable” full vaccination rate among Surry Countians, citing a figure of about 40%.
“I would encourage everybody to get vaccinated,” the North Ward commissioner said.
“Some people have extreme fears,” he acknowledged concerning the vaccine. “But my fear is winding up in the hospital on a ventilator.”
Koch pleaded for local residents to get vaccinated due to COVID’s recent surge in Surry.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley concurred in comments directed toward those who haven’t gotten the shots:
“Please get your vaccination — there shouldn’t be any controversy about it,” Yokeley said.