Buncombe County suspends COVID-19 test sites

Buncombe County COVID-19 testing site at UNCA
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Buncombe County collected 90 samples from patients on March 17, the first day of operation for its two drive-through COVID-19 test sites. Photo by Laura Hackett

After three days of providing drive-through testing for COVID-19, Buncombe County has closed its two test sites at Biltmore Church in Arden and UNC Asheville. Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, said during a March 20 press conference that the decision was made primarily to conserve resources for “the long haul” in Buncombe’s management of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Every test the county conducts, Mullendore explained, exposes health care workers to potential infection and uses personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns, which are also critical during treatment of the disease. She noted that most COVID-19 cases are mild and can be managed at home with rest and over-the-counter treatments such as acetaminophen for fever reduction.

When asked if drive-through testing would return in the future, Mullendore said the county was “leaning toward probably not.” All of the 370 tests conducted March 17-19 remain pending, with results expected to start coming in March 23. She noted that county staff would directly contact those tested to disclose their COVID-19 status.

Extent of county business closures clarified

Also at the March 20 conference, Fletcher Tove, Buncombe’s emergency preparedness coordinator, outlined in greater detail the businesses impacted by the county’s March 19 declaration. He emphasized that the goal of the order was to reduce close personal contact, and thus slow the spread of COVID-19, by closing any business requiring an employee to be within 6 feet of another person for at least 10 minutes.

Beyond the businesses listed in the declaration, Tove explicitly listed the following: martial arts dojos, dance studios, Crossfit centers, massage parlors, medical spas, nail salons, beauty parlors (including one-chair salons), barber shops, hairdressers, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, climbing gyms, trampoline parks and escape rooms. He noted that this was not an exhaustive list, urging all business owners to consider the nature of their services and act accordingly.

“Next week is absolutely critical,” Tove said, to limiting the rapid spread of the virus and preventing Buncombe’s health system from becoming overwhelmed. He said the county would reevaluate the closure order on Friday, March 27, but warned that an even more comprehensive shutdown could take place.

N.C. activates National Guard for disaster logistics

In Raleigh, state officials said they were activating “small numbers” of N.C. National Guard troops in response to the pandemic. Mike Sprayberry, the state’s director of emergency management, clarified that the guard members would support the warehousing, transportation and distribution of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

Sprayberry did not provide further details about the numbers or locations of National Guard units that would be deployed during the crisis. A call to the headquarters of the Asheville-based 105th Military Police Battalion had not been returned as of press time.

While Sprayberry said the state wanted to stockpile protective equipment to ensure an adequate supply in the face of what he called “a nationwide shortage,” he urged citizens to be judicious with their own buying at groceries and other stores. “If everyone limits their purchases to what’s needed, the shelves can stay stocked,” he said.

In other news

  • In a March 19 press release, Duke Energy said that it would waive all fees for late payments, returned checks and credit card payments for residential accounts. The move is in addition to the utility’s March 15 announcement that it would not suspend any customer’s service for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Asheville’s driver license office is one of 13 N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles locations that will cancel its Saturday hours through the end of the month in response to COVID-19. The office remains open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • The deadline for both federal and N.C. state tax filing and payments has been extended to Wednesday, July 15. However, according to a press release from the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, interest will still accrue on state tax payments made after the regular deadline of Wednesday, April 15, unless the General Assembly makes changes to state law.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is a contributing editor of Mountain Xpress, reviewing and reporting stories about Western North Carolina's governments and environment. He was formerly the paper's news editor; his work has also appeared in The Guardian, Civil Eats and the Asheville Citizen-Times. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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One thought on “Buncombe County suspends COVID-19 test sites

  1. Jeffery McDonald

    Any updates on where/how testing will now occur for those who meet the testing criteria?

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