Projected capital investment costs for implementing the library plan total at least $81 million over the next 15 years, including nearly $18 million for a new 25,000-square-foot facility in Enka/Candler and over $16 million for a new building of the same size in West Asheville.
A year has passed since Buncombe County recorded its first Covid-19 death on March 28, 2020. Since then, another 293 people have died. In the official government record, they’ll be remembered as statistics of a pandemic that killed swiftly and indiscriminately, but to their families, friends and neighbors, they were so much more.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners directed health staff to set aside 975 vaccine doses per week — half of the weekly 1,950 doses that North Carolina has been sending the county — for school employees starting Wednesday, Feb. 24.
New policies from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recommend all elementary schools open for in-person learning under Plan A, which does not require 6-foot social distancing between students and teachers. Middle and high schools are encouraged to reopen in-person under Plan B, which requires 6-foot social distancing at all times.
“Our biggest problem right now is that millions of people want a shot, but we only have hundreds of thousands of doses,” said Gov. Roy Cooper at a Jan. 27 press conference. “There will be a time when everyone can get one, and we want to make sure everyone can access it as quickly as possible.”
COVID-19 vaccination initiatives announced by the county include a drive-thru site for second doses at A. C. Reynolds High School and a waitlist for first-dose vaccination appointments. The waitlist will replace a system that requires residents to schedule appointments directly as vaccines became available.
“We recognize that it’s not a perfect system and the demand is quite high,” said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s public health director, at a Jan. 12 special meeting called to address local vaccination efforts. “We just want to reiterate that we will not have sufficient supply of vaccine for a very long time, so it is likely that we will still hear frustration and concerns about being able to get an appointment.”
Of the 1,675 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Buncombe County had been allotted by North Carolina state officials through Dec. 28, the county had given just over 1,000 doses through Jan. 4. Only health care workers, first responders and long-term care facility residents will be able to receive the shot until Monday, Jan. 11.
County health officials will move into phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination process the week of Monday, Jan. 11. But as the vaccine rollout gets underway, residents should prepare for limited availability.
Local restaurant owners face increasing challenges and difficult decisions as Buncombe County lowers dining room capacity to 30%.
While there’s light at the end of the proverbial COVID-19 tunnel, Western North Carolina residents cannot let down their guard. Over the last week, the percent of positive COVID-19 tests has risen to 7.8% in Buncombe County; the county’s daily COVID-19 case counts now average 100 or higher.
“I think we are all looking forward to a time that we can be with families and friends again without worry of possibly getting them sick. That day is not today, but it will be a day in our future.”
“People are out and about, sometimes with symptoms, putting people at risk,” said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s public health director, during an Oct. 20 update to the county Board of Commissioners. “Folks are not adhering to the precautions like keeping 6 feet apart.”
Stacie Saunders joined the Buncombe County Health Department in August to lead the county’s COVID-19 response. Nearly two months into her role as public health director, she reflects on the pandemic and her plans for the department.
The free SlowCOVIDNC app uses Bluetooth technology to let users know if they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, speeding up notifications of potential exposure.
Beginning Monday, Oct. 5, elementary schools will have the option to return to the classroom at full capacity. According to the state’s Plan A guidelines, classrooms will have no restrictions on the number of K-5 students allowed, but safety measures including mandatory face coverings, COVID-19 symptom screening and social distancing will still be required.
Despite the state reporting some of the lowest COVID-19 case counts in the Southeast, the White House Coronavirus Task Force continues to place North Carolina in the “red zone.” The designation means state health officials reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.
The N.C. Medicaid Optional COVID-19 Testing program will fully reimburse Medicaid providers for the costs incurred by testing people without insurance for COVID-19.
A week into the start of the academic year for Asheville and Buncombe County K-12 schools, local officials remain in open, weekly conversations with district administrators to help manage the spread of COVID-19.
The Asheville and Buncombe County school districts, in partnership with the county health department, have decided how students, parents and staff will be informed of positive COVID-19 cases, should they arise. Both districts will resume instruction on Monday, Aug. 17.
Saunders, who has served as the health director for Alamance County since 2014, will replace Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s interim public health director since March 9. Mullendore will continue her duties as the county’s medical director.