Buncombe to serve as state COVID-19 vaccination hub

Buncombe County seal

As the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to drive COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths higher throughout North Carolina, Buncombe County is slated to become a center for efforts to vaccinate residents against the disease. At its meeting of Tuesday, Aug. 3, the county Board of Commissioners will vote on a more than $665,000 budget amendment to support that work.

The funds include a new allocation of $75,000 from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services — which has designated Buncombe as a state vaccine distribution hub — as well as over $590,000 in unspent funds from the same source last fiscal year. A staff report available before the meeting indicates that the money would be used to purchase ultracold vaccine storage units and a mobile vaccine unit for community outreach, as well as continue local vaccine communication and advertising work.

An additional $1.96 million in state funding, unspent in the last fiscal year, will be used to continue work and pay for equipment at the county’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.

Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use by the federal Food and Drug Administration in December, 47% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated; Buncombe’s vaccination rate is 52%. According to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, roughly 99% of all recent U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths have occurred among unvaccinated people.

The commissioners’ agenda also lists a “consideration of COVID strategies,” but no documents were available as of press time. On July 27, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people resume wearing masks in “public indoor settings” in counties with “substantial or high” COVID-19 transmission, defined as at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the previous seven  days.

As of July 30, CDC data identified Buncombe County as experiencing substantial transmission.

County considers $2M toward Homeward Bound hotel purchase

Following Asheville City Council’s July 27 vote to chip in $2 million toward Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina’s purchase of a Days Inn at 201 Tunnel Road, commissioners will vote on whether to contribute $2 million of their own. The hotel would be converted into 85 units of permanent supportive housing to serve the region’s homeless population.

According to a draft resolution available before the meeting, the project aims to end homelessess for 39% of the 220 people identified as chronically homeless in Buncombe County. If approved, the $2 million allocation would come from the roughly $50.7 million in COVID-19 relief the county is slated to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

In other housing news, the agenda also includes an interlocal agreement with the town of Woodfin regarding the county’s homeowner grant program for property tax relief. Woodfin has set aside $15,000 for the program, which will offset up to $200 of increased taxes for residents who have owned their primary residence for at least five years and make no more than 80% of the area median income ($60,100 for a family of four).

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 11 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • A nearly $506,000 contract with Hendersonville-based J. Bartholomew Construction to repair a failing retaining wall at the Montford North Star Academy. The project is expected to take 120 days.
  • Approval of a $210,000 application from Asheville City Schools for state lottery funds to support the design and engineering of repairs at Asheville Primary School. The city school board voted on May 24 to keep pre-K and elementary classrooms at APS’ Haywood Road campus, which the system estimates to need about $5.9 million in critical and high-priority renovations.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 metrics and plans for spending local pandemic recovery funds. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the meeting; no voicemail or email comment will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. 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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