Guest Opinion: We are not ready for what is coming to the Outer Banks

CDC coronavirus image

By Peter Graves Roberts

Full-time Outer Banks residents are engaged in a social media war with Outer Banks non-resident property owners, or NRPOs.

While this catch-me-if-you-can drama plays out, residents of these barrier islands are missing a critical, last-minute opportunity to prepare for what’s coming: potentially thousands infected in local counties and hundreds dead, all at once. Meghan Agresto, local resident activist, teacher and superhero made some solid points during a recent online discussion about a pressing issue that’s been largely ignored by citizens and media alike: what are we going to do when our sick and dying friends and family have no place to go?

The following are statements of concern that I believe every Dare and surrounding county resident should read, understand, and then think of every way in which you may be able to help with the coming “plague.”

The following is a summary of the issues Meghan brought to my attention, which I immediately felt necessary to share with a wider audience:

“So here’s the thing: there are holes in the Keep Em Out plan. Holes aren’t good but as we can now see, inevitable. Isn’t the next logical jump to see and support how the OBX might handle an outbreak if we hit a CV stride when everyone else with a hospital is hitting their stride at the same time? If Florida doesn’t let the cruise ship in, might we not be the next cruise ship inhabitants? Does our Towne Bank need to volunteer its space for a plan for beds and PPEs? Does our hospital have to be the one to prepare for something like this? Our commissioners?

I don’t mean to get dramatic but where there’s a will there’s a way to get on the OBX, and if all our county efforts are toward imperfect enforcement then we’re a step behind Typhoid Mary it seems…

The idea was never “Don’t let anyone on the OBX get this” I don’t think (not sure that’s possible since one day we’ll open the bridges I imagine) but rather, be ready medically and limit the numbers as much as possible…

…But I see no efforts, Facebook pages, letters to officials, or energies being spent on “Are we getting more ready to treat people?” Do you? I appreciate that Step One is stay at home and Keep It Out,but is our assumption as a community that we can just send our sick neighbors and guests to hospitals in Greenville, NC and Chesapeake? Is that good enough? I really have seen no conversations about this at all…

I’m concerned we’re looking at our possible future as we watch the places that can no longer accept the sick: Italy, Florida. Surely we can soon count Virginia in that group?

If the regional facilities mentioned can’t handle us, I guess they’ll do what Italian hospitals did and turn people away. Ideally we could put off getting this until after a peak. Wasn’t it the Gunnisonians of Colorado in 1918 who didn’t let anyone in and as a result, dodged at least the first few waves of the deadly influenza outbreak. It feels like we’re ripe for that eventuality too, unless we plan on keeping our gates (imperfectly) closed until a vaccine is developed. Though I’m not sure most of us can survive financially here for that long.

Spanish influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, US in 1918. Photograph: Associated Press

Guessing our winter population, at least in Corolla, (ie, after the 2nd home owners are gone) is almost 50% high-risk (retirees+cancer and the occasional asthmatics/diabetics). If we get hit in a big way, all the second-home owners who are here can and will return to their primary homes where they would likely find health care facilities more able to accommodate the growing surge of infected people.

If we have 3 local cases now and presumably others unconfirmed, then like everyone else, aren’t we expected to have 27 people in 2 weeks and then up and up? And is there anything better we can do? I don’t know — that’s not my world at all and I’m guessing that if Chapel Hill Hospitals have sick clinicians and not enough PPEs that they wouldn’t be keen on sharing resources at all.

I really don’t know how else to mobilize medical care for an isolated, effectively-rural community. Perhaps this falls into the hands of the National Guard, and maybe then it’s just wait and see for us.

And I get that I seem like a “Cassandra”, but it seems crazy for our local government not to be talking transparently to someone: Outer Banks Hospital, Dare County Board of Commissioners, the hospital in Elizabeth City, Governor Cooper, or even the national guard? — or equally as crazy for us to not be pressuring them to do so — since we now KNOW we’re not immune to its arrival, and we know it spreads from three cases to well over a hundred pretty quickly. We seem to have exhausted the you’re letting people over the bridge too leniently emails and posts.

In fact, it could very well be us leaving the Outer Banks for our visitors’ communities if we’re the unlucky, infected ones. I just don’t know and haven’t seen anything being done by the community on social media, or on behalf of our leaders to address this grim eventuality.”

I have edited Meghan’s comments for continuity, based on the fact that they were pulled from a comment thread, and while addressing a common theme, jumped around a tad. The only thing that I wish to add, after feeling absolutely moved to release her thoughts and concerns as a formal statement for our community, is one simple question: What are we social media page-creating, form-letter-to-the-Governor-and-Board of Commissioners-sending, community-minded Outer Banks Strong individuals going to do now? We’ve spent a lot of time complaining about the ones sneaking in. It’s time to face reality, allow our local law enforcement to continue doing the outstanding job they have been doing for weeks, and come together as a community to demand a plan be established for the weeks and months ahead.

Listen to Meghan Agresto.

Peter Graves Roberts is a poet, punk writer, backseat journalist, dissident. Portsmouth, VA, born and broke-in, living now on the NC Outer Banks. This editorial first appeared on

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