By Lon Anderson
“I’m worried. I’m not going to lie to you. People in Hardy County are just not taking [COVID 19 virus] seriously,” County Health Administrator William Ours told the County Commission at its monthly meeting last Tuesday, July 7. “I’m just convinced we’re going to have a problem. I could be wrong.”
His opinions were drawn from a lot of personal observations locally, Ours explained. “The Governor says we’ll solve this problem if 80% of us will wear masks. If Hardy County is at 20%, I’d be surprised. Everywhere I go — Shop and Save and other stores — it seems under 20% are wearing masks.” He noted that the employees are mostly wearing masks.
Ironically, the morning he was speaking was the first day that the Governor’s order to wear masks was in place and all of the folks but one in the hearing room, Commission President Harold Michael, wore masks. Michael noted that since he was six feet away from others, he didn’t need to wear a mask.
Ours reported that the County currently has logged “44 cases — four active and 40 who have recovered.” But he noted “all of the counties around us are picking up [numbers of cases]. Harrisonburg, Winchester—everybody around us is increasing. We’re actually at 4% for the first time statewide.”
“Right now, there are no deaths in Hardy County—knock on wood,” Ours continued. “Church outbreaks elsewhere are driving up the numbers.”
There are likely cases out there we don’t know about, Ours said, adding that he was pretty confident that “in Hardy County we know our numbers are correct, but we don’t get results from out-of-state testing.”
Ours indicated that one of our biggest problems “is that the statute is unclear. Restaurant owners, for example, are not sure what they have to do.”
As for testing, he noted that the original route was for people to contact their physicians. But he said he has an arrangement with a doctor through Grant Memorial for testing that people can use, but they must call first.
The criteria for testing, he explained, includes folks with symptoms, or who have traveled to the beach or hot spots, or who work at Pilgrims.
The Commission also reaffirmed its building re-opening policy that took effect June 1 that provides guidelines when conducting business for both the public and County employees.
Under the guidelines pertaining to the public, citizens are encouraged to do business in ways that don’t require face-to-face contact, to always wear masks in buildings, make appointments first, etc. (see list printed elsewhere).
Concern over the “Mega Poultry Complex” now under construction near Old Fields was still very much top of mind for the Commissioners. That project will have 20 large poultry houses situated on 95 acres, in fairly close proximity to three residential subdivisions. Altogether, the 20 houses can hold as many as a million chickens at a time.
“A mega farm with a million chickens in one place,” said Commission President Harold Michael. “I’ve heard they can transmit pathogens (to humans).”
“Absolutely if (the pathogen) can transfer from animals to humans,” responded Ours. “It could be an issue. My biggest concern is water. They considered public water but they have to build that based on the highest usage day in a year,” which he noted makes that expensive, so the project will be drawing from wells.
“About 400,000 gallons a day,” Michael added.
“They hope to have three houses run off one well,” Ours continued. “My problem is that I can’t turn them down.”
“No question we need an ordinance to shut this (kind of thing) down,”Michael continued. “When areas have these mega projects, the family farms leave, shut down. Then people don’t want to live anywhere near them. To me, it’s a disaster in the making.”
“From an environmental issues standpoint, we need to address this,” responded Ours. “We can’t stop this one, but if we can address future ones, I’m on board.”
Later in the meeting, Michael returned to the topic. “The building permit (for the mega poultry house project) application came in in February. I don’t understand why there was nothing in the paper until May. Can you discuss this at your meeting?” he asked Lee Lehman, President of the County Planning Commission.
“It’s bad news for the small Ag producers who absolutely won’t be able to compete,” he continued. “Small farms will be left behind.”
“Everywhere you turn, you can see negative things about it,” Lehman responded.
“The nuisance factor, people with asthma and breathing problems, they could all be threatened,” Michael said.
“What happens if the avian flu hits— you could have a million dead birds that have to be dealt with on site?” Lehman asked.
“I would just limit the size,” Michael noted.
“I’m not sure you can do that,” Lehman responded.
“I’m sure this has come about because you can’t get enough growers and that has forced (Pilgrims) to do this,” Malley Combs, Director for the County’s Rural Development Administration (RDA), said.
“Age may be a factor—a lot of our growers are aging out,” Lehman noted. “And getting the money necessary can be difficult.”
“We are working with the banks to get money,” Combs said.
The Commission also had a public hearing on its docket to consider a new Flood Plain ordinance for the County. FEMA is requiring local jurisdictions to update their ordinances.
The proposed Floodplain ordinance that the County Commission is