Buncombe to require face coverings in all indoor public facilities

COVERED UP: Two customers load a purchase from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore into their truck. Under a new county policy, face coverings will be required inside all public facilities starting Tuesday, May 26. Photo courtesy of Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity

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.
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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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30 thoughts on “Buncombe to require face coverings in all indoor public facilities

  1. Jim

    According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy’ s “COMMENTARY: Masks-for-all for COVID-19 not based on sound data”

    “Data lacking to recommend broad mask use

    We do not recommend requiring the general public who do not have symptoms of COVID-19-like illness to routinely wear cloth or surgical masks because:

    There is no scientific evidence they are effective in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission
    Their use may result in those wearing the masks to relax other distancing efforts because they have a sense of protection
    We need to preserve the supply of surgical masks for at-risk healthcare workers…”

    The World Health Organization said on April 6, 2020, “The wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risk.”

    Dr Anthony Fauci said on 60 Minutes March 8/20 “In America, people should not be walking around with a mask”

    The issue with cloth and surgical masks is either not having enough filtration, or in the case of some home made masks, having so much filtration that air leakage around the mask makes them ineffective. N95 respirators, while better and nearly impossible to find, also have fitment issues, especially with facial hair. They also can cause lower levels of oxygenation in the blood from prolonged use. My personal experience with them is in construction, they really don’t work. After sanding drywall compound with one on, I will always have dust residue around and in my nasal passages from leakage. A virus particle is far smaller than drywall dust.

    It seems the Commissioners are more concerned with the appearance of “doing something” for their own political benefit, and making policy that only generates fear and false security.

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    • SoicalDistantSam

      Don’t wear a mask, your choice. Just don’t use YOUR personal construction experience to make sweeping, false, outdated medical claims. Maybe check the updated CDC guidance. Or not.
      I would ask why wearing a mask is some kind of political statement, but I’ll save the keystrokes and chalk it up to ignorance.

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      • Peter Robbins

        I find the term “liar” a bit harsh. Early on in the pandemic, there was some controversy about the value of masks. The CDC’s current recommendation — for people over the age of two to wear cloth masks when in public places — is simply based on the best and most recent evidence. But I agree with you that there is no serious reason for our friend “Jim’s” petulance at county officials. A mandate that isn’t going to be enforced against individuals isn’t much of a mandate. It’s really more like a strong recommendation. And it’s hard to see what harm this temporary policy would cause. At a minimum, the wearing of a cloth mask, if accompanied by an appropriately unforgiving glare, reminds the smart people among us to practice social-distancing and encourages the rest to keep their distance.

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  2. Bright

    “It seems the Commissioners are more concerned with the appearance of “doing something” for their own political benefit, and making policy that only generates fear and false security.“ Just in case you didn’t read the above article…

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  3. Lulz

    LOL how did we survive the last month without them lulz?

    Stupid is as stupid does. And science is fact lulz. Unless of course it interferes with your political indoctrination. You know, like women are equal to men, gender is fluid, and the Earth has never had climate change.

    I’ve been out working through it all. No mask, no gloves, So have a lot of others. Seems to me there are a lot of people that live in some alternate reality where they assume they are safe from whatever issue as long as the government says so. They’re about a smart as bucket of dirt. Better that they stay home than risk it.

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  4. Jim

    Nice try Karen. Despite showing no proof of any of the statements being false, you you claim I’m a “liar”. You only showed the “experts”, upon whom the economy wrecking policies policies were based, had no more “science” to back their claims than you do.

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      • Jim

        Hey thanks! Melania is pure class, unlike the previous “I’ve never been proud of America” wife of the previous maladministration her husband thankfully replaced.

        Still no proof that masks are effective… not surprised. Wear your mask, I don’t care at all! I live close enough to another county that isn’t “requiring” such foolishness, I will shop there. In fact I’m boycotting Buncombe county, I will pay the sales tax elsewhere, as I did when I filled up and bought groceries today. Funny how the young lady that rang up my groceries complained about her mask not fitting and falling off, and compared it to the store’s no shirt, no shoes policy that she had to accept for her employment.

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        • James

          Pure class? Bwahahaha. Her “resume” couldn’t be displayed in front of children or on public TV. Send her “credentials”’to your church under a false name and see how quickly they seek an interview. Oh you people crack me up….

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          • Jim

            The lengths you will go to with your diversionary writings to avoid having to prove your misplaced trust in masks “protecting” anyone, whatever dude, it’s a waste of time to debate with someone that relies on emotion, rather than fact. BTW I don’t go to church, I have no belief in an imaginary god, nor do I deify government like the left does.

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  5. James

    You can’t face the truth that I have quoted several authentic, expert, scientifically-based medical sources directly to counter your lies. But then cultists like you can’t handle ANY challenge to their messiah. Again, you people crack me up. Grownups wear masks. Pro-mask. Pro-Asheville.

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  6. Peter Robbins

    Boys, boys, calm down.

    The CDC website provides a list of studies on which the agency relied when it decided last month to recommend the use of face masks to fight the spread of the coronavirus. You’uns can read them at your leisure. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html

    Lest an official source of information trigger anyone’s deep-state paronoia, here’s a summary of the most recent evidence from a research scientist at a private university: https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507. Be sure to click on the internal links. Among other things, they take you to an article awaiting publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a letter signed by 100 experts urging governors to impose mandatory face-mask requirements.

    It’s possible, of course, to ignore what all these experts say and merely trust one’s tribal instincts. I get it. This is about our basic freedoms, man. But, seriously, who among us can resist making a bold fashion statement in these troubled times? Not this guy, that’s for sure: https://news.yahoo.com/trump-refuses-wear-mask-front-215841879.html.

    Can’t we all try to be a little more like him?

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    • Peter Robbins

      I can’t believe that, as of this writing, my little comment has racked up two “thumbs down” votes? What on earth are my thoughtful critics objecting to? Calmness? Science? A picture of the President having a momentary lapse into adulthood?

      I’d really like to know because I hate to give offense.

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  7. bsummers

    570 out of 2200 employees at the Wilkesboro Tyson plant just tested positive. That’s one quarter of the workforce, going out and infecting their families and others around them.

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      • Lulz

        Sort of like talking about abortion as birth control lulz?

        You got zilch to stand on. 60 million plus deaths in the abortion mills is a disgrace. 100,000 deaths due to a virus with many because of Cuomo shoving sick elderly people into nursing homes while tents in central park and a hospital ship parked in NY harbor is somehow not mentioned.

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        • James

          So once they’re born it is ok to take actions that let them die. So much for “pro-life.” You people with your signs saying “My body. My choice” really crack me up. “lulz”

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  8. Mike R.

    Man! Alot of anger up above in comments. Look, the way this played out, the US got caught totally flat-footed with regards to PPE when the COVID started to spread here. The first guidance out was that mask didn’t make much difference was strictly to try and stop the hoarding of N95’s and surgical masks by smart people. Also, they made clear that a mask could produce a false sense of security if you didn’t do appropriate distancing and keep your hands clean. All well and good.

    The hard truth is that masks (pretty much any mask, but well fitting N95’s are best) will greatly help the spread of this disease. The masks work because COVID-19 has lots of asymptomatic spread. Fancy phrase for saying that people can spread the virus even when they don’t have symptoms. This is one of the features of this lovely virus that make it fairly unique. That, and the nasty stuff it does to some people’s (not all) bodies.

    If you are asymptomatic and have the virus, the simple act of breathing (or coughing God forbid) puts virus into the air. If you wear face protection, this helps block that transmission. And if you’re like me, an old fart who probably won’t fare well if I get the COVID, wearing a mask helps protect me when someone breaths outs that has the virus. Plain and simple. But the best protection is when both parties wear the mask. Clearly.

    Some people can’t be bothered. Some people are too “tough” to mess with this pansy shit. Trump himself has been a terrible role model for masks, yet even beyond expanded testing, everyone wearing masks is the single most effective thing we can all do to prevent spread.

    What Trump should have done…..is nationalize the production of N95 masks. Wartime footing. We should be making these things out the wazoo and giving them to anyone free and expecting, no demanding they wear them in public spaces where 6 foot distancing isn’t practical. You know, the Home Depot, Lowes, grocery stores, nursing homes.

    It is a travesty that we still rely on China for much of our PPE. And soon you will read that China is not selling PPE to the US but keeping it for itself because it knows a second wave is coming, and coming soon.

    There is so much disinformation out there on this virus, our constitutional rights, etc. It doesn’t have anything to do with rights. It has everything to do with the right thing to do. Unfortunately we live in a country where many ciitizens don’t have much critical thinking ability.

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  9. Jason W

    I, for one, support Buncombe’s mask policy because it’s always been my dream, ever since I was a little kid, to go everywhere in public dressed like a ninja.

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  10. cecil bothwell

    Most masks are to protect you from me. Given that non-symptomatic people can spread the disease it is a matter of civic duty to wear a mask in indoor, public places, to also distance and then, obviously, to wash one’s hands often. High quality masks can protect me from you, but that’s actually less important in most situations.
    Masks also reduce the likelihood of touching one’s mouth or nose with a contaminated hand (from a doorknob or other high contact surface.)
    Misinformation like that at the top of this thread will kill people. Period.

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    • Curious

      Can we get Mr. Bothwell to return to some serious investigative journalism?

  11. luther blissett

    Back when I traveled more, I’d be in big airports and travelers from East Asia would mostly be wearing masks, and it looked… weird. Alien, even. On reflection, I’m sure from their perspective I looked like a germ machine. But I wouldn’t get on a plane without one now, or anywhere that resembles an airplane in terms of the space and the number of people and airflow

    So there are a bunch of moving parts here. If reopening is driven by the numbers — new identified cases, new hospitalizations, new deaths — then anything that limits transmission gets things back open. (If it isn’t driven by the numbers, it’s just whack-a-mole. It’s still basically whack-a-mole without contact tracing and isolation.) At the same time, in the absence of existing social norms, there needs to be something to nudge us beyond thinking masks are weird and alien and embarrassing and Not Something We Do, or that activities and interactions are spoiled because masks are involved. We’re mostly fine with “no shirt, no shoes, no service,” right?

    Masks suck. If you’re using a cloth one or bandana or scarf you have to wash it. For disposable ones, you need a reliable supply and it creates a bunch of trash. They suck when the risk is quantifiable and less severe, like when you’re sanding drywall or working with fiberglass. But they suck less than a pandemic.

    The ordinance provides a backstop for business owners who might want their customers or clients to wear masks but feel uncomfortable demanding it as a standalone policy. I’m fine with that. On the other side, I have more time for random shoppers in the grocery store who don’t wear masks than the gun dealer who said that mask-wearers entering his store would leave in a body bag. You’ve made your point, bro. (I do have a problem with random shoppers who apparently never learned arrows at school, but you see that every day on the roads when the Florida crowd arrive.)

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