The Corner

Health Care

Can a County ‘Seal Its Borders’ during the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Nurse Corazon Morales wearing a protective gear administers a test for coronavirus to a patient at a drive-through testing site in a parking lot at the University of Washington’s Northwest Outpatient Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., March 17, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The threat of spreading the coronavirus is serious, justifying all kinds of rare or unprecedented government actions across the United States: closing school indefinitely, closing businesses, pushing restaurants to become delivery or take-out only, “shelter in place” orders, and curfews — that are, at least so far, not being strictly enforced with criminal penalties.

But can it justify barring all non-residents from a county, and requiring all residents entering and leaving to get permits? Dare County in North Carolina — which includes the islands in the Outer Banks — is doing just that. If you don’t live there or have business there, you’re not allowed in.

Based on the CDC guidance to avoid discretionary travel, restrictions remain in place restricting visitors from entering Dare County. Checkpoints were established at access points Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. Details and information on entry are available at darenc.com/entry. Since the entry system was launched yesterday, Dare County Emergency Management has processed over 9,000 entry permits. The online entry permitting system continues to experience high volume. If a permit is not needed immediately, please wait and apply when you need it.  In an effort to expedite traffic at the checkpoints, the Dare County Sheriff’s Office requests that all commercial traffic entering the county use the right lane and all regular traffic use the left lane.

We recognize citizens from Currituck, Hyde, and Tyrrell counties may need to enter Dare County to conduct business, work or attend medical appointments. No one from Dare, Currituck, Hyde, and Tyrrell County will be denied entry with proper identification. Proper identification includes a valid NC driver’s license with a Dare, Currituck, Hyde, or Tyrrell county address or a government-issued identification card with a local address.

At first glance, North Carolina law permits this kind of restriction.

Ultimately, they invoked the county’s right during a declared emergency to limit people coming into Dare County. N.C. General Statute 166A-19.31 gives certain local leaders the authority to pass restrictions “controlling ingress and egress of an emergency area, and the movement of persons within that area.” The statute also allows for any mayor or the chair of the county commissioners to impose such a restriction during an emergency.

Under the statute, the restrictions can remain in place until the county lifts the ban or North Carolina’s state of emergency ends.

This is a serious virus. But it’s not a zombie outbreak. Everyone wants to prevent the virus from spreading, but authorities barring nonresidents from entering turns an entire county into a gated community.

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