Masks are required, and bars still aren’t open. But isolation fatigue is settling in: Ever more people are venturing out into the Asheville area’s stores, restaurants and streets. That includes tourists, who as of a June 24 vote by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners are allowed to fill county lodging facilities to capacity.
As Buncombe enters this new phase, Xpress took a look at the COVID-19 stats — both in Western North Carolina and in some likely points of departure for Buncombe-bound travelers.
Western North Carolina
As of June 29, Buncombe County has reported 574 COVID-19 cases; that date also brought confirmation of 27 new cases, the county’s second-highest single-day increase so far. The majority of the county’s 36 deaths have occurred among those age 75 and older.
Buncombe’s positive test rate averages just 2%, according to county-level data released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In contrast, the state-level positivity rate hasn’t dropped below 8% for the entirety of June.
Henderson County, which saw an initial spike of COVID-19 cases in early April linked to an outbreak at a long-term care facility, reports 593 cases and 49 deaths to date. Henderson has one of WNC’s highest per capita case counts, at 51 per 10,000 people, and has more total cases than any other county in the region.
The percent of positive tests is higher in Macon County, at an average of 17%, than in any other county in the state. And of Macon’s 280 cases, 240 (86%) occur among individuals who identify as Hispanic, despite that group comprising only 7.4% of the county’s population.
But WNC also has several areas that have seen comparatively less impact from the coronavirus. Only 13 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Madison County, according to NCDHHS data, and only four other counties in the state have reported lower numbers: Clay, Graham, Avery and Tyrrell, with nine cases each.
Haywood County has not reported a single COVID-19 death, despite reporting 89 cases. The majority of those cases have been reported in individuals age 49 and younger — a trend seen across WNC and throughout the state.
The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is beginning to target advertisements to potential tourists from areas with “comparatively low COVID-19 case counts” located within a 6.5-hour drive of Asheville. Here’s what the numbers look like in four nearby markets:
- Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.: Greenville County has confirmed 4,887 cases of COVID-19, making it South Carolina’s largest county-wide outbreak, according to data released June 28 by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Spartanburg County has confirmed 1,543 confirmed cases.
- Knoxville, Tenn.: Knox County, in which Knoxville is located, has reported 947 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and five deaths, according to June 29 data released by the Tennessee Department of Health. Approximately 563 of those cases are presumed to be recovered.
- Tri-Cities Region, Tenn.: The Tri-Cities region, which includes the cities of Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, covers eight Tennessee counties: Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. Together, these counties account for 488 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases.
- Winston-Salem, N.C.: According to NCDHHS data, Forsyth County, home of Winston-Salem, has reported 2,978 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths to date. The county’s positive test rate is 10%.
In other news
- Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services will operate three community-based COVID-19 testing sites for the next 10 weeks. Testing will be conducted at the following sites, with language translation services available at all locations:
- Ingles Markets parking lot at 2217 US Highway 70 in Swannanoa every Tuesday, beginning June 30, with early testing hours for long-term care and congregate living staff 9:30-10:30 a.m. and testing for the general public 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
- Buncombe County Sports Park at 58 Apac Drive every Thursday, beginning July 2, with early testing hours for long-term care and congregate living staff 9:30-10:30 a.m. and testing for the general public 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
- A-B Tech’s Allied Health parking lot every Sunday, beginning July 5, 1:30-5:30 p.m.
- Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center is the seventh Buncombe long-term care facility to report an outbreak of COVID-19, with two cases reported among staff, according to NCDHHS data released June 26.
- True Ridge in Hendersonville will receive $100,000 from NCDHHS to support COVID-19 prevention measures in the Hispanic community. The grant will fund contact tracing, isolation measures and prevention techniques.