Buncombe County commissioners on a 4-3 party line vote Thursday approved a resolution supporting more community testing and contact tracing before social distancing guidelines can be eased in the county.
Opposition to the resolution from Republicans on the board centered on one phrase in the resolution which called to “develop protocols for utilizing testing as part of an overall plan for safely reopening the local economy and community.” Commissioner Anthony Penland and his GOP colleagues on the board felt the wording was too vague. "That leaves us wide open (to people) saying 'I'm not going to go into a restaurant unless I see that someone has been tested'," Penland said at Thursday afternoon's special meeting. "Who's doing the testing? The people who own the restaurant, the insurance (of the worker), or is the county going to do it? If it's use, (are) the funds there? I'm not against it, I'm just not sure we know the true answers to some of our questions."
Board chair Brownie Newman said he was taken aback with opposition to the resolution, which is largely symbolic and doesn’t have any funding tied to it. The Democrat says community testing – in whatever form it will take – is crucial to re-opening the economy whenever that should occur, which echoes what Governor Roy Cooper said at a Wednesday press conference in Raleigh. "Until we start getting this testing right...the county and state could lift our restrictions tomorrow, and the restaurant industry will continue to be devastated," Newman said. "(Testing) is a big part of the pathway forward." Newman and the board's three other Democrats voted for the resolution.
Commissioners did unanimously approve more than $700-thousand in funding which will go to emergency operations related to the pandemic, and also to purchase a new ambulance to replace one that is currently out of service due to mechanical issues.
At Wednesday’s coronavirus news briefing, Buncombe County’s Emergency Services Director Taylor Jones says they’ve been working with AB-Tech to train county workers as emergency responders and ambulance drivers. Buildings on the AB-Tech and UNC-Asheville campuses are being prepped to handle a medical surge , including quarantine housing and hospital overflow. Jones says he hopes the county doesn't need the makeshift medical facilities or additional responders, but says it is good to know they are there just in case.