A new county policy to require the wearing of face coverings at all indoor public facilities will go into effect on Tuesday, May 26, at 7 a.m., announced Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe Board of Commissioners, during a May 22 press conference. The county commissioners passed a resolution directing staff to develop the policy at an emergency meeting on May 21.
Individuals who do not wear a mask will not be cited by law enforcement, Newman said.
Many local business owners wanted a policy that would allow staff to enforce the wearing of face coverings as a way to protect employees and customers, Newman explained. The ability to point to a county-wide policy instead of personal preference alone, he said, will make it easier to require masks.
“This was not an easy decision,” Newman said. “I value personal liberty. In normal times, a policy like this would not be up for negotiation.”
Individuals are not required to wear a mask if they cannot due to a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs; while eating at a dine-in restaurant; in private offices; in businesses not open to the public; when complying with directions from law enforcement officers; during worship services, funeral or wedding ceremonies; or in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, explained Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness director.
Local hotels now allowed to book out-of-area leisure travel
As North Carolina moved into Phase 2 of the state’s three-phase plan for reopening, Buncombe officials noted several areas where county policies still deviate from the statewide plan. Among them, explained Tove, were the rules for county lodging businesses.
Buncombe County hotels, motels, short-term rentals and other lodging businesses are now allowed to book and schedule leisure travel accommodations for travelers from outside Western North Carolina, Tove said. However, in rules stricter than those of the state, occupancy will be limited to 50% for lodging establishments with greater than 10 units.
All lodging businesses must also wait 24 hours after a room becomes vacant before employees may clean and disinfect the space, in compliance with statewide orders.
Organized sporting events will not be permitted at Buncombe County facilities in Phase 2, Tove added. The county is aligned with the state’s guidance for restaurants, with the exception of not permitting self-service options.
The easing of restrictions is a two-way street, warned Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director. If COVID-19 cases rise, the county and state could return to more restrictive guidelines, she said.
“The life we knew in 2019 is not coming back anytime soon,” Mullendore said. “If we act like we are still living in 2019, we will continue to see more cases and more deaths. We don’t want to go back.”
In other news
- The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association launched a series of online training modules for restaurant employees and guests to promote safe dining practices that limit the spread of COVID-19. Upon completion of the safety training, businesses will receive a certification to display in their establishment.
- NCDHHS released updated statistics of COVID-19 cases in congregate living facilities. As of May 22, four Buncombe County long-term care facilities are reporting the following COVID-19 numbers: 24 staff, 50 residents and one resident death at Aston Park Health Care Center; 2 staff at Carolina Pines at Asheville; five staff, three residents and one resident death at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community’s Simonds Health Care Center; and two staff and one resident at Stonecreek Health and Rehabilitation.
- The Asheville Regional Airport implemented safety changes in preparation for increased air travel. Enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing markers, limited entry to the airport terminal and additional signage will be in place. Airport passengers and guests will also be encouraged to wear face coverings and use technology, including mobile boarding passes, when possible to reduce physical contact.
- In accordance with new guidance issued by Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s breweries, taprooms and brewpubs will be allowed to reopen in Phase 2. The updated policy states that establishments producing “alcoholic beverages for commercial sale off-premises” are not defined as bars.