Buncombe officials will enforce social distancing, mask mandates

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LAST CALL: Restaurants in violation of COVID-19 safety guidelines will now receive citations. If the risky behavior continues, officials are considering a 9 p.m. limit on alcohol sales. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County has thrown down the gauntlet for businesses violating COVID-19 safety guidelines. Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness director, is giving them one last chance: Fix the behavior now, or risk a formal citation — or a potential ban on all alcohol sales after 9 p.m. 

This weekend, a task force consisting of public health officials, members of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, Asheville Police Department officers, city and county fire marshals, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents, and members of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association will monitor area businesses for concerning behaviors. 

Based on guidance from previous executive order, Tove said at an Aug. 6 press conference, officials will be checking that businesses comply with the following guidelines: 

  • Emergency maximum capacity must be posted conspicuously, and the business cannot exceed that maximum capacity.
  • Restaurants cannot seat more than 10 customers per table, unless the customers are of the same family. 
  • Front-of-house staff such as servers and hosts must wear a face covering at all times. 
  • Customers not seated at their table must wear a mask. 
  • Spacing of 6 feet must be designated at all high-traffic areas, including cash registers and entrance lines. 
  • All alcohol sales must end at 11 p.m.
  • Signage reminding patrons of the “3Ws” — wear a face covering, wait 6 feet apart and wash hands — and of COVID-19 symptoms must be displayed at the entrance. 
  • All staff must be screened for symptoms at the beginning of each shift. 

Failure to comply with all of these guidelines will result in a warning or citation, Tove said. County officials have been in conversations with city and county attorneys to determine the severity of the citations; according to statewide orders, businesses could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, resulting in a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting of Aug. 4, county health officials proposed limiting all alcohol sales at restaurants and breweries after 9 p.m. If, after increased observation, the task force finds that businesses are still violating safety guidelines, county leadership “may have no choice” but to restrict evening alcohol sales, warned board Chair Brownie Newman. Any further action will be announced on Thursday, Aug. 13.

County brings back community COVID-19 testing Aug. 9 

Buncombe County will resume community-based COVID-19 testing on Sunday, Aug. 9, for anyone who lives, works or learns in the county, announced Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s medical director. Testing was paused two weeks ago after Western North Carolina Community Health Services announced it would no longer assist the effort. 

To reduce wait times and testing delays, anyone seeking a test will be required to complete the county’s COVID-19 self-checker or call the Buncombe Ready Team at 828-419-0095 to determine if a test is needed. If health department staff deem testing necessary, they will contact individuals to schedule dates and times. The goal is to have everyone “in and out in under five minutes,” Mullendore said. 

Having faced long turnaround times with its previous lab partner, LabCorp, the county will now work with Asheville-based Genova Diagnostics to test all COVID-19 samples, Mullendore said. The lab has committed to return all results within 48 hours.

Free testing will be available on Tuesdays 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Ingles Market on U.S. Highway 70 in Swannanoa; Thursdays 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Buncombe County Sports Park located at 58 Apac Drive; and Sundays 1:30-5:30 p.m. at A-B Tech. Spanish translation services will be available. 

In other news

  • The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution declaring racism a public health and safety crisis during its Aug. 4 meeting. The Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board and the Buncombe County Justice Resource Advisory Council had previously adopted similar proclamations. 
  • Haywood County Health and Human Services is reporting six additional COVID-19 deaths within the last week, bringing the county’s total to 10. Haywood recorded 50 new COVID-19 cases on Aug. 3, topping its previous high of 19 cases recorded on Aug. 1. 
  • UNC Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program will present 11 online courses for community writers this fall. Experienced writers can take 15-week courses beginning in late August; 10-week courses for writers of all experience levels begin in mid-September. 
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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