Four nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Buncombe County are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, announced Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, at a May 18 press conference. The county has not yet disclosed the names of two of the facilities reporting outbreaks.
County officials said Aston Park Health Care Center and Deerfield Retirement Episcopal Skilled Nursing Home both had active outbreaks of the disease, defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as two or more lab-confirmed cases in staff or residents. They did not share the specific number of cases reported for each outbreak.
The two bills signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on May 4, both unanimously passed by the General Assembly, together designate nearly $1.6 billion for the state’s COVID-19 response and grant flexibility in many areas of regulation.
“Consider the consequences if we move to open things up too early or too fast: We risk losing all the gains and advantages our proactive and aggressive measures have afforded us,” said Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator. “If we get rid of our parachute too early, we’ll go into another free fall.”
Unlike other local instances of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, explained Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, county health workers had been unable to trace at least two cases to a specific source — suggesting that the infection is spreading within the county at large.
Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, said during a March 20 press conference that the decision was made primarily to conserve resources for “the long haul” in Buncombe’s management of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Buncombe County’s revised emergency declaration restricts gatherings to 10 people or less, a stronger mandate than the current statewide prohibition of gatherings of over 100 people. The mandate also requires gyms, fitness centers and exercise facilities, indoor pools, spas, movie theaters, live performance venues and arcades to close until further notice.
Fletcher Tove, Buncombe County’s emergency preparedness coordinator said that a local mandate to shutter businesses and facilities that bring people into close, sustained contact — including gyms, pools, spas, hair salons and barber shops — is being developed and could be announced soon.
Buncombe County has opened two drive-through testing sites, which will be open Wednesday, March 18, from 2-6 p.m. The first site is Biltmore Church at 35 Clayton Road in Arden, and the second is UNC Asheville at One University Heights.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will hear an update on the local status of COVID-19, then consider a $250,000 appropriation to provide funding for the county’s emergency response. Of that money, $200,000 would be available to the county’s public safety efforts, while $50,000 would be allocated to human services.
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman declared a local state of emergency due to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina. The move followed a statewide emergency declaration from Gov. Roy Cooper just two days earlier. Mayor Esther Manheimer subsequently declared a state of emergency for the city of Asheville.
While only two cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have so far been confirmed in North Carolina, local health department officials are working with state and federal agencies to monitor people within Buncombe County who may be infected.
The Buncombe County Health and Human Services Department will offer syringe services at its 40 Coxe Ave. clinic beginning in July or August, joining the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville and the Steady Collective in providing supplies and education to reduce the harms associated with injection drug use.
North Carolina allows two types of immunization exemptions. Medical exemptions, which must be documented by a physician licensed in the state, are rare. Most of those granted in Buncombe County last year were based on religious beliefs.