Gov. Roy Cooper made his stance very clear over the last few weeks: If COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to increase, he would do whatever was necessary to keep North Carolina residents safe — even if that meant imposing additional statewide restrictions.
At a Dec. 8 press conference, Cooper followed through with that promise. Starting Friday, Dec. 11, at 5 p.m., North Carolina will move into a modified stay-at-home order, requiring most people to remain in their homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.
All businesses, including restaurants, retail stores, entertainment venues and outdoor bars, will be required to close by 10 p.m. All on-site alcohol consumption must end by 9 p.m.
Similar curfew measures in Ohio and Massachusetts have seen early successes, Cooper said. “As the weather gets colder in places where people gather, places like a restaurant where you take off a mask to eat: These are places where the virus is spreading. We don’t want people to go over and visit together outside of their homes or in another person’s home,” he noted.
The new guidelines will remain in place through Friday, Jan. 8. If trends don’t improve in that time frame, Cooper warned, the next steps will involve indoor restaurant dining, entertainment facilities and retail stores.
“Our top priority is saving lives and keeping our health care system from being overwhelmed,” he said.
Critical community spread more than doubles, NCDHHS reports
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released an update to its COVID-19 County Alert System on Dec. 8, announced Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 48 are now experiencing “critical” community spread, up from 20 counties two weeks ago.
In Western North Carolina, Cherokee, Swain, Jackson, Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery and Rutherford counties are all classified in the red, or critical, tier. McDowell County falls in the orange, or substantial, tier; Buncombe, Henderson, Polk, Transylvania, Graham and Macon counties are all in the lowest yellow tier, which still indicates significant viral spread.
The high COVID-19 case counts reported over the last several days likely do not yet reflect the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings, Cohen noted. The record cases reported over the weekend — 6,018 and 6,438 on Dec. 5 and 6, respectively — included the first wave of people who attended holiday celebrations and began showing symptoms days later, she explained. This week, Cohen predicts raw case counts will rise as individuals who were infected by others at those gatherings begin feeling sick.
Although Buncombe remains in the state’s yellow tier, local health officials also expressed concern about future Thanksgiving-related spread during a Dec. 7 briefing of the county Board of Commissioners. And according to the COVID Risk Levels Dashboard hosted by the Brown University School of Public Health, the county has reported an average of more than 28 new daily cases per 100,000 residents over the past week — above the level of spread the dashboard characterizes as a “tipping point” at which stay-at-home protocols are necessary.
“Do not wait until it is you or your loved one who is sick with COVID to wear a mask, wash your hands and wait 6 feet apart,” Cohen emphasized. “Do not wait until it is you or your loved one alone in a hospital bed, struggling against this virus. Do not wait until your family loses someone to COVID-19 to do these 3Ws. Protect yourselves, your loved ones and your community right now.”
In other news
- Approximately 27.9% of Asheville’s jobs are remote work-friendly, a new report by Outdoorsy found. The local figure is slightly lower than the 35.5% of workers nationally in a job that can be performed entirely remotely. The full report can be found here.
- As COVID-19 financial losses mount for many WNC families, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue is committed to keeping pets with their owners. Through its ‘Keep Me Safe’ program, the organization will provide temporary pet housing in a foster home if owners suddenly find themselves without housing. More information can be found here.
- The Dec. 8 basketball game between UNC Asheville and East Tennessee State University has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the ETSU program. Both schools are exploring options to reschedule.
- Eight Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office deputies who had been exposed to a coworker with COVID-19 while providing courthouse security have all tested negative for the disease, according to a county press release. The deputies are expected to return to work later this week.