County recommends return to masking in indoor public spaces

Buncombe County COVID-19 epi curve
UPWARD SLOPE: Recent daily COVID-19 new case numbers reported in Buncombe County, seen at the right of this graph, have been doubling every two weeks. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s public health director, stopped short of recommending a new state of emergency in her COVID-19 briefing to the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 3. But due to the rapid local spread of the coronavirus’s delta variant, she said, county health officials are asking all residents — regardless of vaccination status — to resume wearing masks in indoor public spaces.

That recommendation aligns with the guidance of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called for universal indoor masking “in areas of substantial or high transmission” on July 27. Saunders noted that Buncombe had seen over 150 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the last week, well over the CDC’s high transmission threshold of 100 new cases per 100,000 per week.

At least 90% of the county’s new cases, Saunders continued, have been reported in residents who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The new cases also skew younger than was observed earlier in the pandemic, with an average age of just over 39.

“Vaccination is working to protect our elders, who eagerly got vaccinated,” Saunders said. She noted that over 80% of Buncombe residents 65 or older had received at least one shot, compared with 55% of the total county population.

Unlike areas such as Denver and New York City, Buncombe is not currently considering a vaccine mandate for private-sector workers or patrons of indoor venues. But Michael Frue, the county’s senior staff attorney, said management was developing a policy for county employees that would require either vaccination or a weekly negative COVID-19 test. The proposed approach mirrors the one introduced for state cabinet department employees by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 29 through Executive Order 224.

Further measures for the general public, Saunders said, may be introduced if Buncombe’s COVID-19 test positivity rate, hospitalization numbers and deaths worsen. She called for all eligible residents who remain unvaccinated to receive their shot through the county’s Health and Human Services office at 40 Coxe Ave. or another local health care provider.

“Please honor the sacrifices that our emergency services personnel, our nurses, our restaurant workers, our business owners, our teachers, our school-age kiddos have all made by getting your vaccine,” Saunders said. “Please don’t squander the hard work of our entire community by choosing to let the virus use our bodies.”

Commissioners appoint comprehensive plan committee

As the county prepares to develop its first comprehensive plan, commissioners appointed 23 residents to a committee that will help steer the work. The document, required by state law to be adopted by next July, will guide Buncombe’s long-term land use and infrastructure decisions.

Board members evaluated 111 applicants for the committee, aiming to pick representatives with experience in a range of fields, from housing and transportation to food security and resilience. The following people were chosen: Jennifer Billstrom, Kareen Boncales, Brandon Bryant, Kit Cramer, Ron Dumas, Kevan Frazier, Andrea Golden, Alan Hall, Damon Hearne, Iliana Hernandez, Chris Joyell, Karl Koon, Debbie Lane, Rich Lee, Christopher Link, Robin Merrell, Sara Nichols, Megan Robinson, Bruce Snelson, Dede Styles, Robert Thomas, Nancy Waldrop and Virginia Ward.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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5 thoughts on “County recommends return to masking in indoor public spaces

  1. Taxpayer

    The county can recommend masking all day long but many won’t comply unless it’s required. Thank heavens we have businesses willing to take a stand and require masks in their establishments. Maybe some of these business owners should be running the county since the current group won’t.

    • luther blissett

      “Maybe some of these business owners should be running the county since the current group won’t.”

      It’s easier to enforce mask / vaccination requirements if you employ people who’ll quit if they’re not required. It’s harder if you employ people who’ll quit before accepting a mandate. This is why Mission, Pardee, AdventHealth, etc. aren’t imposing mandates: they know that a bunch of antivax nurses will walk out the door.

  2. Justkeepingtrack

    Unless it is mandatory, it will be roundly ignored, especially by the tourists.
    At local restaurants and breweries, with a very few exceptions, the unmasked, no social distancing crowd runs between 80 and 100 percent. Sharing tables with non-household strangers, all unmasked. And absolutely NO way to determine their vaccination status. And with the states supplying a huge number of visitors here, fully 50-70% are NOT vaccinated.
    Recipe for disaster.

  3. Cimantha Whitfield

    Are we really doing this again? Are we legitimately still pretending this was ever a serious threat to anyone? Is anyone aware of the tuberculosis epidemic a few years ago that killed 10 million people? No? Why is that? Probably because they quarantined the sick people and didn’t use it coerce compliance with senseless mandates just for the sake of forcing people to do something simply because they were told to do so. It’s a case of “It doesn’t matter if it defies all logic, we said it’s true, and you better agree. Or else.” Where do I remember reading something like that….2 + 2 =5 I think it was. People, please try to use your critical thinking skills. The masks were never about protecting anyone. If they were, they’d be made of material that a virus couldn’t leisurely sail through unmolested, would be one-use by their very nature, and disposed of in haz-mat containers. Otherwise they’d be most dangerous, disease ridden items on earth and we’d all be dead. They are to gauge compliance. They get a rough estimate of the percentage of those who will comply with arbitrary orders, and those who will not. Why? Compliance with masks=compliance with vaccines. And whatever else they want to inject into you. The opposite is also true. I believe the refusal rate was too high this time, so next go round, restrictions will be tighter. For the love of God and all that is logical, please put down the opiates and look around you, pay attention to this stuff. If we don’t, we’re going to wake up from the drug-induced haze and find ourselves no longer free to make any of these decisions. I fear it’s already far too late.

    • RonR

      “People, please try to use your critical thinking skills. ”
      I used my critical thinking skills and have masked up.
      A friend of mine that I attended church with for 10 years thought the whole COVID thing was a hoax.
      He died March 5th from COVID respiratory failure. He was a strong, fit ex-firefighter. COVID is real folks. Talk to any ER physician.

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