Buncombe, Asheville schools debut COVID-19 case tracker

OPEN COMMUNICATION: Buncombe County and Asheville City school administrators will now release a weekly COVID-19 report detailing cases in the schools. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Schools

Three months after the start of the academic year, Buncombe County health and school officials will begin releasing weekly updates on school-related COVID-19 cases. The first report, shared Nov. 5, identified eight cases across six schools. 

The collaborative effort between Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, Buncombe County Public Health and the Mountain Area Health Education Center’s school nurse program is meant to quell community fears and rumors about COVID-19 in K-12 school settings, said BCS Superintendent Tony Baldwin during a Nov. 6 press conference. 

“As we enter the traditional flu and virus season, we were seeing staff and students that were not in the building,” Baldwin said. “The majority of them were certainly not out because of COVID-19, but we felt from a transparency standpoint that this was an opportunity for us to communicate clearly with the community.” 

The COVID-19 report will be updated every Thursday at 9 a.m. with case counts from the previous week. The dashboard is only meant to “give a snapshot” of viral spread in the school systems, said Shane Cassida, ACS assistant superintendent of auxiliary services. If a case is identified, contact tracing will begin immediately, he added. Clusters, which North Carolina defines as 5 or more linked cases reported within a 14 day period, will continue to be shared biweekly through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 dashboard

COVID-19 dashboards have previously been developed by the Henderson, Haywood, Jackson, Rutherford and Swain county school districts. Private and charter schools have also been invited to share data through Buncombe County’s report. As of Nov. 6, four additional schools were considering joining, said Stacey Wood, spokesperson for Buncombe County Health and Human Services, though she did not provide specifics.

“[The report] lets our community and our school families know that there’s nothing for us to hide,” Cassida said. “We’re not trying to hide anything; we don’t want to hide anything. It’s a win-win for us.” 

NCDHHS releases COVID-19 guidelines for Thanksgiving, Black Friday 

Ahead of the upcoming holiday season, NCDHHS released new guidance for Thanksgiving gatherings and Black Friday shopping

For those planning to host a small Thanksgiving meal, health officials recommend holding the event outdoors or in a well-ventilated space, limiting the number of people in the kitchen, arranging tables so households are spread at least 6 feet apart and selecting one person to serve food so multiple people don’t touch serving utensils. 

Can’t stay away from stores on Black Friday? NCDHHS suggests using hand sanitizer when entering and exiting a store, limiting browsing and using touchless payment methods. In-person events, including tree lightings and visits with Santa Claus, are also discouraged. 

NCDHHS recommends taking a COVID-19 test prior to travel or attending family gatherings, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, at a Nov. 5 press conference. A negative test is “not a free pass,” Cohen emphasized: Travelers still need to follow the 3Ws — wear a face covering, wait 6 feet apart and wash their hands — and stay home if they feel sick. 

In other news

  • Farmers tailgate markets hosted by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project will continue through December. A list of locations and dates can be found here
  • All Buncombe County and Hendersonville government offices will be closed Wednesday, Nov. 11, in observance of Veterans Day. The city of Asheville will livestream a Veterans Day ceremony at 11 a.m. 
  • The annual Ingles Giving Tree lighting will be held on Monday, Nov. 23, 5:30-6 p.m., at the Asheville Outlets. Customers can support the annual fundraiser for MANNA FoodBank at all Ingles stores by making a $5 or $10 donation, representing 20 or 40 meals, respectively, for families in need.

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About Molly Horak
Molly Horak served as a reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @molly_horak

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