NC coastal town borders COVID-19 on all sides, still no cases


Courtesy of Nicole Villardi

The sun sets along the Albemarle Sound in Camden County, N.C. The town is bridged to Elizabeth City by the Pasquotank River.

Emily Broyles, Reporter

CAMDEN, N.C. – A small town roughly an hour north of the Outer Banks has one Dollar General, a few restaurants and countless fields. It also happens to be one out of seven counties in North Carolina that has no laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Amy Underhill, healthy communities coordinator at Albemarle Regional Health Services, wrote in an email that while there have been no cases reported to the health department or state, it is “very likely” there are cases in Camden. 

“Those with mild to moderate symptoms are encouraged to stay home if they are sick and to call their health care provider,” Underhill said. “Testing is mainly being reserved for health care workers, those seriously ill in the hospital and long-term care facilities.”

With no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, Camden and its 11,000 residents are following stay-at-home orders in North Carolina, mandated by Gov. Roy Cooper. 

“You can get on Facebook, and there’s lots of debate about what’s right or are we doing too much … but when you see the posts that are saying there are fewer cases than expected, I read that as not that we’re overreacting, but that our reactions are actually working and reducing the cases,” said Bille Berry, a Camden resident.

Berry, Camden County Schools chief human resources officer, said the school system is balancing “taking all the precautions that we can” with the switch to online learning. 

Courtesy of Camden County High School
Camden County High School is the only high school in the county. Students will not return to the building for the rest of the academic school year after Gov. Cooper’s extended stay-at-home order.

“While there’s been a learning curve behind that … I think it’s been good, and our teachers have adapted really, really quickly to that, and our students have adapted really quickly to that as well because certainly they didn’t ask for it,” Berry said. “I have a 10-year-old daughter myself, and quite frankly, she’d rather be at school than at home with dad teaching her math.”

Berry said that essential workers in the school system are mandated to telework Monday and Friday and social distance as much as possible when reporting to schools Tuesday through Thursday. 

Jason Duncan, a Camden resident who works in law enforcement, doesn’t have that option. 

“Being an ‘essential’ employee, life has not changed much with regards for work hours. Although, we are taking steps not to take unnecessary risks that may lead to possible exposure.  The main difference is with my children being home from school and the challenge of keeping everyone on a schedule and active to help keep moods positive,” Duncan wrote in an email. 

Duncan said he doesn’t believe there are any cases in Camden, but regularly sanitizes his hands and practices social distancing. He said he has seen people not practice social distancing.

“Everyone has their free will to choose whether to practice the recommendations by the health officials. I do feel that it is foolish to take it too lightly and completely dismiss this as an issue,” Duncan said. “The same folks that disregard the precautions will often be ones that will want to blame others and cannot understand what happened when they find themselves or a loved one sick with COVID-19.”

Heather Ambrose, Camden resident, said that at first, she thought it was “not too serious.” It wasn’t until she was forced to close her salon that she started to practice social distancing. 

“With it being such a small town, I think most people are staying home. I don’t see a lot of people out gathering unless they’re going to town. The majority of the stores that people in Camden go to are in Elizabeth City,” Ambrose said.

Elizabeth City is located in Pasquotank County, where 34 cases have been reported. This is the highest number of cases in a North Carolina county close to Camden. Cities in Virginia along the state border like Chesapeake and Virginia Beach have a combined number of 528 lab-confirmed cases as of April 24. 

While Camden residents like Berry are saddened for seniors uncertain about graduation and other residents like Ambrose are thrown off by not going to work, Duncan said this situation can bring new ideas to how people live.

“It’s easy to focus on all of the things we want to get back to once this is over, but perhaps we need to focus on the things that we have started since this began, and focus on not giving those up,” Duncan said.

Berry took time off work to go on a hike with his daughter.

“It’s sort of forced me to slow down a little more and spend a lot of quality time with my daughter. You don’t think about those things when you’re in the middle of long weeks at work or (in) the tempo of our everyday life,” Berry said.

“No matter the situation, there is always good,” Duncan said. “We just have to choose to see it, acknowledge it and bring it to light.”

Albemarle Regional Health Services encourages residents to do the following:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Practice social distancing; stay at least six feet away from others; avoid unnecessary travel; avoid handshakes, hugs and other close contact.

For more information on COVID-19 in Pasquotank, Perquimans, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates and Hertford counties, visit