By JUDY ROYAL
Even in an area accustomed to weathering its fair share of disasters and emergencies, local leaders have struggled to deal with the unprecedented nature of the
“The biggest challenge is we have never seen anything like this, so from a planning perspective we’re addressing the issues as they arise,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. “There is no game plan for this. We’re having to depend a lot on what our health experts are telling us.”
Because there is no definitive end date, he compared the current situation to “a never-ending hurricane.”
Saffo said in a region that depends heavily on tourism dollars, the effects of COVID-19 – including the restrictions officials have implemented to help curb the spread – are significant and far-reaching.
“This is going to have a dramatic impact on those businesses that cater to tourism and those ancillary businesses that support it,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Saffo said he is especially concerned about small business owners, many of whom still haven’t completely recovered from Hurricane Florence, which hit our area in September 2018.
“We’re all looking to see what kind of help we’re going to get from Washington, in addition to what other relief programs are going to be forthcoming and what kind of assistance we’re going to get from state,” he said. “We’re limited with funding locally.”
In fact, many municipalities and counties – including the City of Wilmington – are facing their own financial woes and will be looking for federal assistance themselves. The loss of sales tax, room occupancy tax, and parking revenue will have budgetary repercussions, Saffo said.
Despite the economic losses, Southeastern North Carolina has largely been spared from the widespread public health crisis that has plagued other parts of the country as a result of COVID-19.
“I think the region has fared very well because dramatic action was taken by the elected officials in this region as well as what the Governor did,” Saffo said. “There’s no doubt about it. You can see it in the numbers. The overall effort has had a dramatic impact on tapping down
As a whole, the community has accepted responsibility and done its part to keep the number of cases low, he said.
“The people in this region are taking this seriously,” Saffo said. “They have done a phenomenal job. They are the reason we are where we are. I give them all the credit.”
With so many unknowns about COVID-19, it’s important to stay vigilant and keep safety at the forefront of the battle, he added.
“Every one of us has a part to play in this, and that’s to stay healthy,” Saffo said. “As long as everyone is healthy, then we’re winning.”