Buncombe to allow gatherings of 10 starting May 1

Brownie Newman signing executive order on April 30, 2020
ON THE SAME PAGE: Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, signs an executive order on April 30 to align the county's COVID-19 restrictions more closely with those of Gov. Roy Cooper. Screen capture courtesy of Buncombe County

While most of Buncombe County’s restrictions on public life to slow the spread of COVID-19 will remain in place through at least Friday, May 8, one rule is about to be loosened. At an April 30 press conference, Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman signed a new executive order allowing mass gatherings of up to 10 people — a change from the current county ban on all such gatherings — effective 6 a.m. on Friday, May 1.

Even as people resume small gatherings, they will be expected to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet and follow public health guidance on sanitation and masks. The county’s cap on wedding and funeral attendance remains at 10 people, less than the state limit of 50.

Newman said that the move better aligned Buncombe’s guidance with that of Gov. Roy Cooper and noted that the county would continue to follow the governor’s lead on reopening throughout the coronavirus pandemic. However, Newman added that the county would maintain its current restrictions on leisure travel, which are stricter than those of the state, until further notice.

“Due to the popularity of Asheville as a tourist destination and the fact that many areas of the country, including neighboring states, have extensive spread of COVID-19 transmissions, we will need to take a careful and gradual approach to inviting significant numbers of people from outside the region and state into our county,” Newman said.

State ‘hopeful’ to begin lifting restrictions May 9

The latest update from North Carolina officials reflected cautious optimism about the state’s progress toward economic reopening. Both Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said during an April 30 press conference that COVID-19 trends and preparedness were largely moving in the right direction.

Cohen pointed specifically to the percentage of COVID-19 tests with positive results as a bright spot for North Carolina. That number, as high as 17% on April 17, had come down to roughly 9% as of April 29. The state was also conducting more tests overall, giving health officials a better grasp on the disease’s spread.

If these trends continue, Cooper said, the state could begin Phase 1 of its three-phase reopening plan as early as Saturday, May 9. Parks could reopen under those rules, as could nonessential retailers such as sporting goods stores and clothing boutiques.

But the governor emphasized that, for North Carolina to have the best chance at reopening soon, residents should continue to follow his stay-at-home order through the next week. “Complacency could risk lives and undo these plans,” he said.

In other news

  • Buncombe County released its COVID-19 Self-Checker on April 30. Residents can access the tool, which provides advice about disease symptoms and next steps, on the county website or by calling 828-419-0095.
  • According to a study released April 28 by finance website WalletHub, North Carolina has the nation’s worst support system for residents impacted by COVID-19. Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst, cited the state’s low percentage of residents with health insurance and significant problems with its unemployment system as primary reasons for the ranking.
  • The Nantahala Health Foundation — one of the successor foundations resulting from the sale of nonprofit Mission Health to HCA Healthcare — established a COVID-19 recovery fund and will match the first $100,000 in donations. “We cannot begin to predict what our communities will need six or nine months or even a year from now,” said NHF Board Chair Jane Kimsey, “but we knew we must position ourselves in such a way that we’d be ready to help when future needs are identified.”
  • Asheville Outlets is hosting a drive-thru food drive to benefit the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry. From Friday, May 1, through Friday, May 8, drivers can pull up to the food court entrance to donate nonperishable food and hygiene items from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.
  • Brother Wolf Animal Rescue is partnering with Meals on Wheels of Asheville Buncombe County to provide food for seniors’ pets. Homebound seniors in need can contact Becky Blalock with Meals on Wheels at 828-253-5286.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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