Cooper mandates social distancing in retail stores

Roy Cooper at COVID-19 press briefing
ALL BUY YOURSELF: Gov. Roy Cooper's latest executive order, announced on April 9, requires shoppers to stay at least six feet apart while in checkout lines or other high-volume store areas. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Department of Public Safety

Gov. Roy Cooper wants North Carolina residents to pick up essential items such as groceries and medicines when they go shopping — and not pick up COVID-19. At an April 9 press conference, the governor announced a new executive order, effective at 5 p.m. Monday, April 13, to “help prevent stores from becoming flashpoints for virus transmission.”

The measure limits shoppers in any retail location to 20% of the store’s permitted fire capacity or five customers per 1,000 square feet. High-volume locations such as checkouts and deli counters 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.”

The new restrictions are currently set to expire on Wednesday, May 13. Although violation of the order will be punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor, Cooper said he’d been in conversation with North Carolina’s retail leaders and expected widespread compliance; many stores, he added, had already implemented similar measures.

Also included in the order are additional rules for nursing homes: All communal and group activities must be canceled, and all employees must wear face masks while working. In addition, the order eases certain regulations on businesses filing unemployment claims to speed up the distribution of state benefits.

County creates form to document essential travelers

Although Buncombe County’s lodging facilities, including hotels, campgrounds and short-term rentals, are currently closed to leisure travelers, rooms are still available for those coming to the area on essential business. Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said government officials have been “working very closely with Explore Asheville [Convention & Visitors Bureau]” to create a standard process for verifying that those new guests are legitimate.

Lodging operators will now be required to fill out a form documenting the essential purpose of anyone from outside the county booking a room, Tove explained during an April 9 media availability. He said the form would help lodging owners coordinate with local law enforcement, who are receiving “several dozen complaints a day” of noncompliance.

Tove also clarified that those arriving from outside the state on essential business are exempt from the county’s requirement for visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. That restriction does apply, he added, to owners of second homes who are currently living outside North Carolina.

In other news

  • Mountain BizWorks and the Dogwood Health Trust announced a joint effort to increase community access to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits under financial stress from COVID-19. The DHT will advance $2 million for Mountain BizWorks to administer under the program; that money will be repaid by the U.S. Small Business Administration once it is lent out to local enterprises.
  • A group of 24 local clergy, organized by Rev. Mark Ward of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, published a letter backing the nursing staff at Mission Hospital in unionization efforts. “We are aware that there are voices who argue that all the stresses surrounding this pandemic argue for delaying your organizing election, “ Ward wrote. “But it’s also true that the way this pandemic has disrupted our health care institutions is illuminating how critical it is that nurses get greater say in their work lives.”
  • As of April 9, 2,050 individuals and 133 businesses had applied for assistance from the One Buncombe Fund, according to fund Chair Kit Cramer. Of those applicants, she said, 341 individuals and 26 businesses had received a total of $381,000; county officials were not immediately able to provide a list of business applicants and awardees in response to an Xpress request.
  • The Tryon Arts & Crafts School announced a “Masks 4 Masses” competition for locals to craft homemade face coverings. All entries will be donated to essential agencies and businesses in the community, and prizes will be awarded for creativity and number of masks made.
  • Henderson County Public Schools confirmed that the system would continue to provide child care and meal services during its spring break from Monday, April 13, to Friday, April 17. Full information on meal sites and care locations is available on the system’s website.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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