Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 121, which went into effect at 5 p.m. March 30, acknowledges that local governments may choose to enact stronger restrictions than those of the statewide stay-at-home mandate to combat the spread of COVID-19. At a press conference that same day, Buncombe County officials confirmed that they’d be keeping more stringent rules in place through at least the morning of Thursday, April 9, when the county’s own stay-home order is set to expire.
“Buncombe County is going to take actions that best safeguard the public health for Buncombe County residents,” said Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator. “Buncombe County will maintain its declaration until April 9, at which time we will reassess the situation and latest data to determine if we will align our county with the state guidance from April 9 until [the state order’s expiration on Thursday,] April 30.”
Tove explained that Buncombe’s rules were stricter in three areas. First, the county currently bans all mass gatherings, while Cooper’s order allows gatherings of up to 10 people. The state order also permits hotels and motels to operate normally; the county has prohibited new leisure bookings and is requiring all arrivals from areas with community spread of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Finally, the statewide guidance allows for any business, nonprofit or school to remain open if it can maintain social distance between and among employees and customers. Buncombe County limits operations to a defined list of essential categories, including health care, critical infrastructure and child care.
State ramps up medical capacity
North Carolina is wasting no time in preparing its medical system for an expected surge of COVID-19 cases, said Mike Sprayberry, the state’s director of emergency management. Since its Emergency Operations Center began operation earlier this month, he said at a March 30 press briefing, the state had requested 500,000 sets of personal protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile and ordered an additional $92 million in PPE on the private market.
Sprayberry noted that fulfillment of the federal request was at different levels for different pieces of equipment. While the state had received 91% of its desired procedure masks, for example, only 38% of N95 masks and 16% of face shields requested had been delivered.
Medical volunteers, Sprayberry added, were also in demand, with North Carolina issuing a call for retired and former medical professionals to offer their services. He said over 1,600 had registered through a state website, with 500 volunteers so far vetted and approved.
In other news
- On March 28, the Brian Center Health and Rehabilitation in Hendersonville reported that one of its residents had tested positive for COVID-19. According to a press release from SavaSeniorCare Consulting, which operates the center, the resident is currently under isolation, as are all other residents showing symptoms of the disease.
- Mark Meadows, who until his resignation effective 5 p.m. on March 30 served Western North Carolina as the representative for U.S. House District 11, will now take part in federal efforts against COVID-19 as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. CNN reports that the Republican will formally replace Mick Mulvaney in the role as of Tuesday, March 31.
- A group of 15 WNC Democratic candidates for state and federal office signed a joint letter calling for North Carolina to immediately expand Medicaid in response to COVID-19. Buncombe County signatories included Brian Caskey (N.C. Senate District 48), Julie Mayfield (N.C. Senate District 49), Susan Fisher (N.C. House District 114), John Ager (N.C. House District 115) and Moe Davis (U.S. House District 11).
- The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association launched a relief fund to provide cash support for restaurant and hotel employees experiencing financial difficulty as the industry cuts back on staffing due to COVID-19. Qualified applicants can apply for up for $500 in direct assistance to help with immediate expenses.
- Hands On Asheville-Buncombe, an online volunteering portal hosted by the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, has expanded to connect community groups with in-kind donations. Businesses and individuals with extra resources, including school supplies, personal protective equipment and food, can sign up to be notified as area organizations make requests.