Radford City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to extend until Nov. 1 a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people in the city in response to a huge increase seen in COVID-19 cases.
The limit on gatherings was first instituted in early August to run until Sept. 18 and be reconsidered during each meeting of council.
Mayor David Horton noted Monday night that the number of COVID-19 cases in Radford had grown over the past six weeks from 29 to well over 600.
Fortunately, Horton said, most of the cases have involved the young and healthy so there had been minimal hospitalizations.
“This is a very challenging time for the community,” Horton noted. He mentioned Radford’s recent inclusion in a New York Times list of COVID-19 hot spots which listed locations across the U.S. that had seen the highest growth in per capita cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period.
Horton told council a recent statement from the University of Virginia on their projection modeling for the city, as well as the Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford Metropolitan Area (which includes Pulaski, Giles and Montgomery counties) shows the area peaking at the end of September and beginning of October with COVID-19 cases around 2,300 to 3,000 per week throughout the area.
Horton said that as it gets colder, additional illnesses will become a factor.
“As we come inside one of our concerns is COVID-19 could gather more in indoor areas than outdoor areas and could potentially increase the threat to the community,” he added.
Horton said he believed it would be prudent for council to consider extending the limit on gatherings.
“Large gatherings simply are not a good idea,” Horton said.
Horton said he had had people reach out to him to ask if they could have festivals and gatherings along that line.
“The advice is it’s probably just not a great idea,” he said.
Horton said council could re-visit the situation closer to Halloween.
“Halloween is not regulated by the government and we will certainly have some recommendations the department of health and other agencies will likely give us as to safe ways to enjoy the holiday. We’re not changing Halloween and we’re not saying you can’t celebrate, but large gatherings are not a good idea.
Each member of council expressed their approval of extending the ordinance.
The ordinance limiting gatherings to 50 or less does not prohibit activities such as church services, funerals and peaceful protests.
Councilwoman Naomi Huntington said she believes the issue council needs to continue examining is whether the threat posed by larger gatherings is serious enough to prohibit them.
“Based on the escalation of cases we are seeing in the New River Valley and knowing we are not an island – we are interacting with our neighbors on a daily basis – I do believe the ordinance continues to be merited at this time,” Huntington said.
Later during discussion, Horton noted that a lot of people haven’t considered that another spike in COVID-19 cases could result in the New River Valley and Southwest Virginia having to go back into a Phase 2 or even Phase 1 situation.
“Even if we don’t choose to, the Governor’s office may,” he said.
“There’s not a person on council who wants to do this [extend the ordinance deadline] but it’s something we feel we need to do to help our community,” Horton added.
Council’s action to extend the city’s limit on gatherings does not affect activities on the campus of Radford University, which has a 10-person limit on gatherings.
Like Radford City, however, the university also has exemptions to its gathering limits that allow for larger gatherings as long as face masks are worn by participants and physical distancing is practiced.
That will allow for a planned student-led gathering Saturday afternoon on campus called The Bigger Picture Rally and March.
The rally is described Horton – an administrator at Radford University – as “student voices expressing their concerns about issues with race and equality while exploring ways to create a future where all people experience a just society regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, gender and so forth.”
RU President Brian Hemphill noted the event is “not an external event and only Radford University students, faculty, and staff will be provided access to campus.”
He also notes that, “Consistent with public health guidance, Saturday’s outdoor event will require mandatory face coverings and physical distancing. The student organizers have committed to following the masking and distancing requirements and ensuring all event attendees do the same. Individuals refusing to wear face coverings or maintain physical distancing will not be permitted to participate.”
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot