By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Senior Staff Writer
The Kiawah Island Town Council held its first in-person meeting in months June 2, a move that seemed indicative of a step in returning to whatever “normal” is. No masks were visible, but social distancing was being observed, mostly.
Mayor Craig Weaver got the party started with his report. He observed that everyone was glad to see local businesses beginning to open back up but also struck a cautionary posture concerning the coronavirus pandemic. The numbers are still going up, especially in South Carolina, he remarked. The occupancy limits placed on local restaurants and Harris Teeter by the Council are set to expire before the next regularly scheduled meeting, and he said the situation demands a special Council meeting to properly review the situation, rather than simply allowing the recommendations to lapse.
Weaver also discussed the antibody testing performed by the Medical University of South Carolina.
A communique to residents from the town may provide the best summary:
“… 1,441 people participated in a COVID-19 antibody testing program co-sponsored by the town and MUSC. The goal of this testing was twofold. The first objective was to give participants an accurate insight into whether they may have been infected. … This testing provided every participant with a greater degree of certainty about whether they had been exposed. Second, from a community-wide perspective, we wanted to know the extent to which our residents had been exposed, particularly since the weekly zip code reporting by DHEC suggested that we were experiencing little exposure but offered unclear insight.
“The results community-wide were as follows (all numbers approximate): Kiawah and Cassique full-time residents, 1,036 tests performed – 0.8% positive; all others, 405 tests performed – 3.0% positive (predominantly non-full-time property owners).
“According to MUSC, even with a high number of full-time residents that might be characterized as ‘vulnerable,’ Kiawah might be expected to be less at risk for spreading the virus because of our low density and the amount of outdoor activity. … In short, the many measures put in place by the governor … local government … local businesses … were effective in limiting Kiawah’s exposure. This can work for or against Kiawah, depending on how the virus spreads during the summer and fall months.
“… Kiawah, as a community, carries little or no immunity to the future spread of the virus. MUSC physicians would stress that Kiawah still benefits from its low density and open areas, and practicing personal social distancing continues to be an effective personal strategy. But with the influx of visitors to the island, we will assume a higher risk of exposure in close-quarter public areas.
Additionally, as Kiawah residents take advantage of the opening of the Charleston economy or begin to travel, our risks also increase.
“This health crisis is not over, which is evident from recent South Carolina statistics for new cases and new deaths. The focus has changed from preventing exposure at all costs to quickly identifying and managing the spread of the virus when outbreaks and reoccurrences happen. The data from this recent round of testing would indicate that Kiawah is still largely susceptible to the virus, but the actions we have taken individually and collectively have been successful. We are quickly returning to more normal activity and with that brings new risks. The responsibility for managing our exposure has mostly returned entirely back to each of us individually.
“Public health professionals continue to stress the two simple actions of social distancing and practicing personal hygiene. Those are still key to avoid this virus.”
Weaver wrapped up his notes by saying “we all support the peaceful protests” surrounding the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. “Those are important and need to occur.” He emphasized that the town had no indication of unrest on Kiawah, but that several nights of curfews were instigated at the county level and are not expected to continue.
Town treasurer Dorota Szubert was back in the limelight. She spent an hour or so during each of the last several meetings reviewing the budget and had to start all over again because of the coronavirus. The economic impacts of the pandemic have fanned out, and Szubert followed up on previous reports by saying she and the Council managed to produce a balanced budget despite the anticipated loss of $2.5 million.
The Council then turned to the sole item of old business. Ordinance 2020-04 was approved for a second reading. The amendment to the town’s noise ordinance was further defined as 60 decibels, or about the volume of a normal speaking voice. Although the idea of adding more restrictive hours to the action had been floated, the Council was content to leave the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. intact. Basically, sound cannot travel beyond your property during these hours.
New business consisted of a first reading of the 2021 budget for the fiscal year extending from July 1, 2020, to June 30,2021, agreeing to continue working with All South Consulting Engineers, approving state accommodations tax amounts and the Kiawah Island Parkway landscaping project.
All votes were unanimous.
“Feeding or harassing alligators is forbidden,” Council member Maryanne Connelly said.
Her comment came in the wake of a disastrous alligator death on Kiawah
and several other incidents. The alligator population has held a steady count of 700 animals on the island for quite some time. Connelly went on to say additional signs, brochures and a new alligator awareness campaign will be enacted by all the island’s primary players – the resort, the community association and the town.
“Nuisance alligators (those that have been fed or otherwise lost their fear of humans) are routinely removed,” she said, adding that alligators, especially the larger ones, make a vital contribution to Kiawah’s eco-system.
The mayor chimed in to say the town will continue to monitor and manage gators on the island while trying to find the sweet spot between science and safety.