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COVID-19 still dominating local government meetings

Triage tents have been set up at HCA hospitals and the detention center, and arrangements have been made to acquire three refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues.

By Leslee Kulba

Asheville – As of April 11, however, the number of cases confirmed has been flat, at 37, but the death toll from COVID-19 complications has increased to two. The latest fatality was described as a veteran in his 80s, who had been admitted to the VA Hospital.

Also announced at the work session was an extension and revision to the county’s stay-at-home orders. The new orders are in effect indefinitely, the county’s Emergency and Preparedness Director Fletch Tove saying the number of local cases of COVID-19 could peak in 4-10 weeks, and it may be 2021 before an all-clear is given. Published with the new orders were 17 pages of “Interpretive Guidance.”

Changes make allowed activities at least as restrictive as the governor’s orders. Permitted reasons to leave home include shopping for groceries, gasoline, pharmaceuticals and hygiene products; visiting a doctor; providing essential assistance to a person or animal; work at an essential business; obtaining medical attention; engaging in outdoor activity; and receiving deliveries of even nonessential items. Rules for not congregating in groups of over ten and staying at least six feet away from anybody besides one’s quarantine buddies is forbidden.

As of this writing, documentation is not required to travel from place to place. However, law enforcement may charge persons conducting nonessential errands with a Class 2 misdemeanor. Citizens are encouraged to report violators.

Drive-in worship services are now permissible, but communion and offerings may not pass between vehicles, and there is to be no handshaking. Weddings and funerals are also allowed again, so long as rules for social distancing are observed. Special instructions are also provided for certain types of businesses, like auto and real estate sales.

The county, with the order, has indefinitely outlawed short-term rentals, to all but traveling essential employees. Operators harboring traveling essential employees are now required to document the nature of guests’ business. Anybody entering the county must still self-quarantine, meaning they must refrain from participating in essential retail for 14 days.

The new orders were prepared when wearing cloth face masks was recommended. As the prevailing opinion on face masks is as volatile as the stock market, it is best to check for the latest definitions of criminal activity before leaving one’s home. To help, the county and City of Asheville have retrenched nonessential civil servants in a call center dedicated to COVID-19 questions. The Ready Team may be reached Monday-Friday, from 8 am – 5 pm, at 828-419-0095 or ready@buncombecounty.org.

Nonessential civil servants have also received training as ambulance drivers, and AB Tech is availing allied health students to practice before graduation. The mannequins have been pulled out of the beds at AB Tech’s 100-bed simulator, and 50 new ventilators have been provided from the Mountain Coalition Preparedness Committee to transform that facility into a backup hospital. The notoriously empty Sherrill Center at UNC Asheville will also be converted into a regional surge center to handle overflow from HCA’s 1,400-bed capacity. Triage tents have been set up at HCA hospitals and the detention center, and arrangements have been made to acquire three refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues.

Like other jurisdictions, the county has been compiling a demographic analysis for the outbreak, which could be futile, since the virus, and its management, have been described as great equalizers. However, it is hoped the data will raise awareness about, and spur action on, the long-established fact that low-income people are more likely than their wealthy counterparts to live in unhealthy environments, are more prone to disease, and are less able to pay for medical attention.

In Related Matters

A somewhat dated survey conducted by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce that showed 32.49% of about 500 businesses responding had closed, 27.4% had changed their hours, and 25.24% had changed their services. Of a similar number responding to another set of questions, 67.56% said they needed help with cash flow, and 34.09% said they needed assistance for employees they had to lay off.

To try to help, the commissioners, at their March 24 meeting, authorized the creation of the One Buncombe Rapid Relief Fund, using the already extant Buncombe County Service Foundation. The fund would use Buncombe County Health and Human Services to screen applications for individual aid, which would be paid directly to landlords and utilities; and Mountain BizWorks to underwrite and administer low-interest, small business loans of up to $10,000, with no payments due for six months. Relief is only for hardships directly attributable to COVID-19.

Tuesday, the commissioners approved an appropriation of $200,000, adding to the fund’s 455 donations totaling $950,484. To see who has donated, fill out an application for assistance, or make a donation, visit onebuncombe.org.

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