March 24, 2020
A Message from Mayor Weaver
As of yesterday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Carolina reached 298, thirty-one of those in Charleston County. Nation-wide the number reached 43,000. That disparity makes it all too easy to conclude that COVID-19 isn’t an imminent concern for our community.
But it is. The national and local response has altered things dramatically in a few short weeks. Public and private facilities and restaurants are closed. Meetings and events are cancelled. People are out of jobs. Neighbors are debating, sometimes passionately, about the response nation-wide and here on Kiawah. Is it too much or is it too little? Should we enact tighter restrictions on traveling to and staying on Kiawah?
With the exception of Freshfields, Kiawah is essentially closed to the general public. As a “gated community”, entry is restricted to our property owners, their guests, and workers and contractors authorized by and performing a service for a property owner. With the Sanctuary Hotel and most Resort operations closed or curtailed, there are relatively few “paying tourists” on the island. Further restricting access to the Town would require limiting the rights of current property owners to decide who they invite into their home.
The Town has not taken the step of restricting contractor and service employees, nor owner families and guests, for several reasons:
- The public health professionals that we are following for guidance (South Carolina DHEC and MUSC) have not advised that this is a necessary measure SO LONG AS our community follows the recommended actions for social distancing and personal hygiene.
- Restricting contractors and service workers from entering the Town would negatively impact hundreds of people who rely on this community for their livelihoods – construction workers, landscape employees, and repair and delivery personnel. Their paychecks will be gone, maybe for weeks. Restricting contractors would also affect our residents. Home construction will stop. Important services will not be available to you. These actions may eventually be required or mandated by the State. But if we can avoid impacting our workers and our residents we should try.
- Restricting non-resident visitors would predominantly affect your or your neighbor’s. Why? Because the visitor data we have points to the fact that the majority of people on this island today are resident and non-resident property owners and their extended families and guests. Substantially restricting access to the island would require a broad exclusion of this group. The majority of non-residents on the island are acting responsibly, and the public health benefit of enacting restrictions is unclear. It is also not apparent how we would monitor and enforce such an action.
- The number of short-term rental guests on the island is small (less than 15% of our rental properties) and is anticipated to keep declining. Most rentals are vacant or occupied by their owners and guests. Nonetheless, the concern by residents about additional visitors on the island during this health crisis is real and needs to be considered. Town Council will hold a special emergency meeting of the Council on Wednesday morning to discuss a proposal to place a moratorium on new short-term rental reservations with an arrival date during the next 21 days. Details of the meeting and proposed ordinance will be communicated separately.
What do we need to do to manage the risk of COVID-19 in our community?
First, everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health during the COVID-19 crisis. That means taking primary responsibility for your own safety by practicing social distancing and avoiding public facilities to the extent that you can. The Town can only do so much to stop people from acting irresponsibly or not taking this event seriously, but you can stay away from them.
Second, take responsibility for your neighbor’s health. That means be respectful of the need and desire of others to avoid contact. Don’t go out in public if you don’t feel well and seek medical advice promptly if you experience COVID-19 symptoms. Recognize that you can have this virus and be contagious to others without showing symptoms, so act around others and in public places as if you could be carrying the virus yourself.
Third, if you have family or guests staying with you or using your home, take responsibility for their behavior. Insist that they treat their stay here with the seriousness that it deserves. It is fine, even preferred, to ride a bike, go to the beach or play in the park. But insist that they practice social distancing, avoid groups of ten or more, step aside for others on bike paths and boardwalks, and leave most of the family outside of Harris Teeter when they go shopping. As difficult as it may be, think seriously about whether Kiawah is the best place right now to have invited guests. If we can manage this better, the concern about restricting island access should diminish.
Fourth, if you still have renters in your home, you are responsible for what happens at your property, the conduct of your renters, and whether your renters are posing a risk to the broader community. As the property owner, your rental is your responsibility and you cannot pass it off to your property manager. If you cannot or are not willing to provide this oversight, then perhaps it is a good time to stop renting your property until this crisis passes.
Finally, recognize that as much as I had hoped that we could maintain a sense of “business as usual” on Kiawah Island while we get through this public health crisis, it isn’t business as usual.