No weekend COVID-19 safety citations for Buncombe restaurants

LET IT FLOW: If Buncombe restaurants failed to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, county officials warned of a potential 9 p.m. limit on alcohol sales. A team of public health officials and law enforcement officers did not issue any citations over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Green Built Alliance

After announcing a plan to crack down on restaurants violating COVID-19 safety guidelines last week, city and county officials have yet to issue any citations to area businesses. Stacey Wood, Buncombe County Health and Human Services spokesperson, confirmed the lack of penalties in an Aug. 10 email to Xpress.

Over the weekend, a task force consisting of public health officials, Asheville Police officers, members of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, city and county fire marshals, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and members of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association observed and visited local restaurants based on prior reports of non-compliance with COVID-19 public health guidelines, Wood said in an email to Xpress

Task force members observed some incidents of restaurant patrons socializing without face coverings, said Wood, as well as some signage “discrepancies.” She did not specify which restaurants the task force had visited. 

“Most of these situations were addressed with establishments, and the task force members were able to provide resources on the spot, which brought them into compliance,” she said. “Overall, we are seeing a high level of compliance and a willingness to quickly come into compliance when there is a requirement not being met.”

The task force will present its findings later this week in a memorandum to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Wood said.

NC sees lowest new daily COVID-19 cases since early June

North Carolina reported just 626 new cases of the coronavirus on Aug. 10 — the lowest daily total since June 2, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The number represents roughly a quarter of the 2,481 new cases reported as the state’s highest one-day increase to date on July 18.

State health officials have made a direct correlation between the drop and the institution of a statewide face covering requirement on June 26, said Gov. Roy Cooper, at an Aug. 5 press conference. Roughly three weeks after masks became mandatory, the number of new COVID-19 cases began to stabilize, he explained. 

The state’s overall COVID-19 testing numbers have also dropped: Over the last month, the three days on which the fewest tests took place occurred within the last week. However, the positivity rate of those tests has also declined steadily over the past month, reaching a low point of 5% on Aug. 9. The World Health Organization recommends that states should remain at a 5% positivity rate or lower for 14 days before reopening. 

The trends are moving in the right direction, Cooper said, but there’s still much to be done to contain the virus. “Stable is good, but decreasing is better,” he noted. “While we’re seeing stabilization, it doesn’t mean we can let up.” 

In other news

  • Buncombe County and Asheville City School teachers and staff went back to work on Aug. 10, ahead of the first day of school for students on Monday, Aug. 17. All staff were expected to return to their physical classrooms; students attending Asheville City Schools will begin the academic year fully remote, while Buncombe County students will attend some in-person classes for up to two weeks before returning to entirely virtual classes until Monday, Sept. 28.
  • The NCDHHS will now require all nursing home staff to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks, as announced Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, at an Aug. 7 press conference. All testing will be paid for using federal coronavirus relief funding, she said. 
  • Earth Fare will now open all stores at 7 a.m. on Mondays for an “at-risk shopping hour” to accommodate individuals at a higher risk for contracting severe COVID-19. All seniors age 65 or older will also receive a 5% discount on Mondays with a valid form of identification.
  • MANNA Food Bank is seeking community volunteers to meet increased need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-risk individuals who feel comfortable working in person as MANNA’s facility are encouraged to sign up online for a volunteer shift.
  • Buncombe County will host a virtual conversation on Tuesday, Aug. 11, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. to discuss the 2020-21 school year. Panelists will include Gene Freeman, Asheville City Schools superintendent; Tony Baldwin, Buncombe County Schools superintendent; and each district’s director of student services.
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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5 thoughts on “No weekend COVID-19 safety citations for Buncombe restaurants

  1. Charlie

    Buncombe County will say whatever they think will make people shut up. A crackdown on restaurants will never happen. They’re obviously too afraid of the big scary Independent Restaurant Association.

  2. yelling

    I saw a “f*ck curate!” sticker downtown. Amusing. As time goes by the quality of people downtown is become such that I actually have no respect for them – they literally look like golfers or minor politicians out in shorts. They practically are bringing izod pastel shirts back at these sidewalk restaurants. I’ve begun to actually yell right in the faces of people, calling them “American garbage people!” So far no one has gotten physical yet. Yelling really loud downtown is fun though.

  3. Amy Gordon

    I am a little bit surprised that no one has challenged the rather unscientific insinuation that “State Health Officials have made a direct correlation between the drop and the institution of a statewide face covering requirement on June 26.” How many times have we heard repeatedly “Correlation is not Causation”. How many other factors might be intervening in here that also correlate with the drop in positive tests including your sentence in the article, “The state’s overall COVID-19 testing numbers have also dropped which should be a duh on how that would impact positive tests!!! How many other factors did the State Health Officials look at? Might there be an inherent bias to confirm their controversial mask ordinance as “working”? Regardless of reason, there is NO reason to have this kind of mindless journalism that doesn’t ask the right questions. If these questions occur to me, an average citizen, why don’t they occur to you, Molly Horak?

    • Virginia Daffron

      Hi Amy, thanks for your questions and thoughts. I agree that Xpress should continue to push for opportunities to have deeper and more meaningful exchanges with state
      and local health officials around these topics. It’s been challenging to have more substantive conversations in the limited virtual formats officials have provided. Questions often must be submitted in advance, which means it’s frequently impossible to challenge a specific claim on the day it is made. Even when reporters may ask questions in the moment, responses have often been limited and no chance for follow-up questions is provided.

      You may have seen coverage of some media outlets’ filing lawsuits to compel the release of additional information on specific topics.

      Molly has provided ongoing coverage of these briefings while continuing to research and write many stories on other topics. I don’t think your characterization of her journalism as mindless is fair. Your points on how we ought to interrogate the public officials’ claims are well-taken, and we’ll certainly consider them for future stories.

  4. Amy Gordon

    Your point is well taken and my apologies to you, Molly. I can’t truly make that claim about mindless because I have become so turned off to most mainstream media for the same reasons I listed above – Lack of incisive questioning – that I have been reading mainstream media as little as possible. So, you are telling me that is because you are unable to get your deeper questions answered – a shame for the public and understandable from your end. I will be watching future articles in anticipation of those questions we should be asking our public officials. For example. The Buncombe County Public Health Dashboard is very limited in the data that it is presenting. Wouldn’t it be useful to see what percentage of the population of Buncombe County died due to the virus out of the entire population of the county? Wouldn’t it be interesting (and useful) to see what percentage of the population in Buncombe County died AND weren’t from nursing homes (that would be 13 people)? Or when you do the same for what % of the population died in NC AND what percentage of population not due to nursing homes in NC died, you start to see a completely different picture. One that has me scratching my head. I would also be wondering what tests each country are using? Mixing diagnostic tests result numbers got the CDC lambasted, yet we have no idea in NC if we are doing the same thing. It is impossible to get an answer from NC Public Health on this.

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