Buncombe hotels can now host more visitors — as long as they have an 828 area code. The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has announced a coronavirus-inflected legislative agenda, and $5,000 micro grants are available for local startups.
Like most states, North Carolina was unprepared when unemployment claims skyrocketed as COVID-19 cases shut down large swaths of the state’s economy. When the crisis began, no benefits were available to those who didn’t previously work in a traditional job. That changed recently, so Xpress talked with locals who make their living in the gig economy about the experience of seeking newly available funds through the state Division of Employment Security. Spoiler alert: It hasn’t always gone smoothly.
To date, 34 patients with COVID-19 have visited a Mission facility for treatment, said Dr. William Hathaway, the system’s chief medical officer, during a May 11 press conference. Two individuals with the coronavirus are currently receiving care at Mission, which he said has sufficient capacity of ventilators, personal protective equipment and intensive care beds.
According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in May 2018, the Asheville-based company allegedly sought and received payment for fecal, blood and urine tests that have not been scientifically proven to diagnose any medical condition.
At an April 21 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners lent their unanimous support to designating 16,000 acres of the Pisgah National Forest in the county’s northeast as the Craggy Mountain Wilderness and National Scenic Area. And on April 28, Duke Energy unveiled the most detailed public explanation to date of how company leaders are thinking about the longer-term future.
A group of locals called for N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper to lift restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 on May 3 in Asheville.
“My whole world seems to be closing,” says Danny Bernstein, an Asheville-based outdoors writer who regularly leads hikes for the Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Smokies. “Staying 6 feet apart is easy on the trail. But how can we have outdoor activity if almost every piece of public land is closed?”
Prior to COVID-19, hair stylist and salon owner Laura Anderson viewed her industry as recession-proof. These days, with her business temporarily closed, she is finding ways to adjust to life during a shutdown.
Local businesses are bringing creativity to bear on pandemic-related closures and plans for business revitalization following the end of restrictions. They could get some help: Sen. Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville announced he will introduce legislation to the N.C. General Assembly to allow the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to make grants to tourism businesses to support their reopening.
“I’m trying to convene people who care in a way that will help the folks who are being left out, because there’s a high percentage of our friends and neighbors who won’t make it.” says Hunter about her work in response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
While many local residents laud efforts to ensure safety for shoppers and employees at retail stores that remain open — among them grocers, drug stores and hardware retailers — others criticize certain stores and fellow shoppers for failing to wear masks or be mindful of social distancing requirements.
In a conference call held April 20 and open to the community, Mission officials gave new details about rapid coronavirus testing capabilities the hospital acquired two weeks ago. The Cepheid and BD Max molecular diagnostic tests, as well as the chemicals required to run them, are among the hottest products on the medical market.
“Consider the consequences if we move to open things up too early or too fast: We risk losing all the gains and advantages our proactive and aggressive measures have afforded us,” said Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator. “If we get rid of our parachute too early, we’ll go into another free fall.”
In its first story, news nonprofit AVL Watchdog looks at many possible paths to recovery from the COVID-19-induced economic crisis unfolding in Asheville and Buncombe County.
Kristin Weeks, managing partner and co-owner of the Asheville location of Fifth Season Gardening Co., says business is booming in the wake of COVID-19. “People are coming in and spending a lot more money; the average invoice has gone up, too,” she says. “People are kind of just coming in and going for it.”
Tim Love, Buncombe County’s director of intergovernmental relations, said that roughly 75% of individuals seeking assistance from the One Buncombe Fund had been employed in the hospitality industry. Of those requests, he added, the vast majority were for support to maintain rent or mortgage payments.
Under the watchful eye of Mission Hospital security, several nurses involved with the push to unionize their colleagues demonstrated during the 6 p.m. shift change on April 9. Their signs and conversations with other staff members questioned the availability of personal protective equipment and training to deal with the COVID-19 threat — and how a union might increase their safety.
The new executive order, effective 5 p.m. on Monday, April 13, limits shoppers to 20% of a store’s permitted fire capacity or five customers per 1,000 square feet. High-volume locations such as checkouts must mark six-foot spaces to ensure social distancing in customer lines, and all stores must conduct “frequent and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas.”
In the first weekend of March, said Explore Asheville’s Marla Tambellini, hotels throughout the county were at roughly 90% occupancy. By March 27-28, only about 15% of rooms were filled, and the average price for those accommodations was approximately half its usual rate — $80 instead of $160.
At a March 27 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay-at-home order, effective throughout North Carolina at 5 p.m. Monday, March 30, that will stay in effect until Wednesday, April 29 — nearly three weeks longer than the duration of Buncombe County’s recently enacted mandate.
“Yes, ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] stores are considered essential retail. You’re welcome,” deadpanned Fletcher Tove, Buncombe County’s emergency preparedness coordinator, during a March 26 press briefing on the county’s COVID-19 response.