On Friday, May 8, Buncombe County will move with the rest of North Carolina into Phase 1 of a statewide plan to relax stay-at-home restrictions. At a May 7 press conference, Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman signed a revised local COVID-19 emergency order that aligns the county with the strategy announced earlier in the week by Gov. Roy Cooper — with the notable exception of tourism.
Cooper’s plan allows hotels and short-term rentals to operate under the same social distancing and hygiene requirements as other businesses. Buncombe, which had previously prohibited all leisure travel, will now limit reservations to “staycations” for Western North Carolina residents with an 828 area code. Occupancy is restricted to 50%, and visitors who are not part of the same family or household cannot occupy adjacent rooms.
Those restrictions will remain in effect for the duration of the statewide Phase 1, which is currently set to expire at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. Fletcher Tove, the county’s public health preparedness director, said non-WNC residents could make reservations for dates beyond that point, with the understanding that Phase 1 restrictions may be extended if COVID-19 trends worsen.
But in line with state guidance, Tove said, retail businesses will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, with precautions in place to ensure customers and employees keep a 6-foot distance and minimize direct contact. Employees will also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and asked to self-isolate if symptoms develop.
State, county and city parks will open, and child care facilities will be allowed to serve all working families, not just those of essential employees. Hair and nail salons, barber shops and other personal care services will remain closed, as will health clubs, gyms and fitness centers. Restaurants are still prohibited from offering dine-in service but are permitted to continue with carry-out and delivery.
County to resume community-based testing next week
Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services will partner to offer community-based COVID-19 testing beginning next week for individuals who are experiencing symptoms, said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, during a May 7 press conference. The county’s Rapid Response and Recovery Equity Action team is working to determine the testing sites.
Testing at these locations will be available for anyone experiencing symptoms, regardless of age, race, gender, income, immigration status or ability to pay, Mullendore said. Residents with health insurance are asked to bring their insurance information with them, but tests will be provided free of cost regardless of coverage.
The county had previously offered community testing for three days in mid-March but suspended the effort to conserve testing supplies and personal protective equipment. Mullendore said that strategy had changed because supplies have become more available.
In other news
- The N.C. State Board of Elections plans to conduct the Republican second primary for the U.S. House District 11 as previously scheduled on Tuesday, June 23, but will add “significant safeguards to protect against the spread of COVID-19.” Changes will include social distancing for all poll workers and voters, protective barriers at check-in tables and single-use pens for ballot marking.
- Electronic Benefit Transfer recipients in North Carolina are now able to purchase groceries online through Amazon and Walmart. Shoppers are not currently permitted to buy online from local retailers that accept EBT; those merchants must apply for approval through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- The Haywood County Board of Commissioners eased county-specific restrictions on travel related to COVID-19. Visitors from outside Haywood will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days, and the same mandate will be lifted for residents who have traveled out of the county for three days or more.
- Both the N.C. Arboretum and Biltmore Estate plan to partially reopen beginning Saturday, May 9. Visitors will be able to use park spaces, but all indoor facilities will remain closed.
- Asheville Outlets announced that over a dozen stores and eateries would resume business at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 9. Retailers to reopen their doors include Fragrance Outlet, Le Creuset and Rack Room Shoes; curbside pickup will also be available from the Brooks Brothers Factory Store, Kirkland’s and Vera Bradley.