Starting Friday, wearing a mask won’t be just a health recommendation or a fashion statement — it’s the law. A new statewide face covering mandate will go into effect on Friday, June 26, at 5 p.m., a month after Buncombe County began requiring face coverings in all public indoor facilities.
Under the new executive order, people are required to wear a face covering in all indoor or outdoor public spaces when physical distancing is not possible. Exceptions include individuals with a medical or behavioral condition; while someone is actively eating, drinking or strenuously exercising; and children under the age of 11.
If a customer is not wearing a mask at a business location, the business can call law enforcement, which may charge the customer with trespassing, explained Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness director, during a June 25 press conference. Businesses not enforcing the mandate risk a citation, he said, though he has not yet discussed enforcement with the Asheville Police Department or the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.
Individuals won’t be required to provide proof of an exception. However, claiming a mask exception does not mean a business must offer normal service to the customer, Tove explained.
“A business owner or store can make a reasonable accommodation for an exception,” he said. “The business can decide how to deliver the service, so they may ask for the customer to wait outside for curbside service, they may have them take a different route through the store or have them stand in a small restricted section of the store and operate that way.”
County officials are considering additional public awareness efforts, including billboards, public service announcements and more signage with new language to clarify that the requirement is now a statewide mandate.
“The science and data is showing that this is the No. 1 way that we can stop the spread of this infection and take control of this pandemic — it’s more important than testing, honestly,” said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s interim health director. “If we want to get through this faster and safer, it’s really important for all of us to take part in this really simple action.”
Buncombe hotels now in compliance with state guidelines
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has lifted the county requirement to limit hotel and short-term lodging occupancy. Previously, lodging establishments with 10 or more units were limited to 50% occupancy, and staff were required to wait 24 hours after a room became vacant to clean the space.
“The lodging industry is self-regulated by the market as far as capacity,” explained Tove. “We think that if we get rid of the restrictions, there’s still going to be a lower percentage than they normally would have.”
Tove said county staff worked with Explore Asheville to analyze data sets and assess the current capacity of the lodging industry. The results of that analysis support moving into full alignment with state guidelines, he said, in part because operating under different rules than other areas of the state didn’t produce the intended effect of limiting visitation.
“We know people are just coming to neighboring counties and still coming to Asheville through those venues,” Tove said. “But we looked at the data, and the data supported removing those restrictions.”
In other news
- Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services announced three community-based COVID-19 testing sites that will operate for the next 10 weeks. Testing will be conducted at the Ingles Markets parking lot at 2217 US Highway 70 in Swannanoa every Tuesday, beginning June 30, with early testing hours for long-term care and congregate living staff 9:30-10:30 a.m. and testing for the general public 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; the Buncombe County Sports Park at 58 Apac Drive every Thursday, beginning July 2, with early testing hours for long-term care and congregate living staff 9:30-10:30 a.m. and testing for the general public 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; and A-B Tech’s Allied Health parking lot every Sunday, beginning July 5, 1:30-5:30 p.m. Language translation services will be available at all locations.
- A seventh COVID-19 outbreak has been reported at a Buncombe County long-term care facility, Mullendore said at the June 25 press conference. The name of the facility will be released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, June 26, by 4 p.m.
- Ingles Markets announced a second bonus payment of $300 for all full-time employees and $150 for part-time employees who were hired on or before April 24, 2020. The payment will be made at the end of July.