Stacie Saunders to take over Buncombe’s COVID-19 response

Stacie Saunders
HEADING THE RESPONSE: Stacie Saunders assumes her role as Buncombe County public health director on Monday, Aug. 3. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County will soon have a new face in its fight against the coronavirus. Stacie Saunders, the county’s incoming public health director, will begin her new role Monday, Aug. 3.

Saunders, who has served as the health director for Alamance County since 2014, will be taking over from Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s interim public health director since March 9. Mullendore will continue her duties as the county’s medical director.

“[Saunders] has a very strong foundation as a health director in North Carolina, and I’m very excited that she’s going to be joining our team,” Mullendore said at a July 30 press conference. “We’ll be working in tandem when she arrives so I can download everything from my brain into hers about our local situation.”

Saunders holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and is the president-elect of the N.C. Association of Local Health Directors, according to a June 26 press release from Buncombe County’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Alamance County has reported 2,101 cases of COVID-19 and has a per capita rate of 126 cases per 10,000 residents, according to July 30 data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Buncombe’s latest figures show 1,576 cases and a per capita case count of 61.

Mental health needs rise statewide

Fever, cough and shortness of breath are not the only symptoms caused by COVID-19. Health officials have seen anxiety and depression symptoms triple across North Carolina since March, said Victor Armstrong, the state’s director of the division of mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services, during a July 30 press conference. The coronavirus has also led to increased rates of substance abuse, binge drinking and opioid overdoses, he said.

“As a state, we must be prepared to address the long-lasting stressors presented by this pandemic,” Armstrong said. “We can do this by building resilience, raising awareness and increasing access to behavioral health care.”

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness month, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s secretary of health and human services. Anyone can experience mental health challenges, she explained, but culture, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation can make access to mental health treatment more difficult for already marginalized communities.

“This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us,” Cohen said. “From people who have been impacted from the virus and their families and friends, to health care professionals and other frontline workers, to those who have felt the economic impacts of the pandemic, to all of those feeling isolated and anxiety and stress.”

In other news

  • The city of Hendersonville is offering a utility payment program for customers with outstanding balances. Participants must sign up for the payment plan by Sunday, Sept. 27, and will have 12 months to pay any outstanding balance.
  • The YMCA of Western North Carolina will offer full-day and half-day flexible childcare options for the 2020-21 school year. Childcare programs vary by school district (Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, Henderson County Public Schools or McDowell County Schools) and are subject to change.
  • Gov. Roy Cooper announced an 11 p.m. curfew on the sale of alcoholic beverages served at restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries effective Friday, July 31. The executive order does not include alcohol sales at grocery stores, convenience stores or other places permitted to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.
  • The N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, which includes Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, called on Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to include fiscal assistance for local governments in the final version of the next federal legislative package for COVID-19 relief.

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About Molly Horak
Molly Horak served as a reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @molly_horak

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