Buncombe County will lower capacity limits for indoor dining and gatherings at the beginning of January, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the county at greater levels.
On January 2nd, the capacity for indoor dining at restaurants will go to 30% from its current 50%, and the limit on indoor gatherings involving people from outside your household will drop from ten to two. Both are stricter than current state limits. County board chair Brownie Newman made the announcement in a Facebook Live broadcast Wednesday afternoon, saying the new regulations won't go into effect for ten days to allow businesses to plan for them. Outdoor dining capacity limits are not impacted by the new restrictions.
The announcement comes a day after the statewide map showing which counties are seeing the greatest community spread of COVID-19 was updated. Buncombe is now 'orange' or showing 'substantial community spread', up from 'yellow' or showing 'signficant community spread.' The third and highest category is 'red' or showing 'critical community spread', a level neighboring Henderson, Rutherford, and Transylvania Counties are now in.
Newman said the tougher restrictions are necessary because Mission Hospital in Asheville is seeing a rapid increase in inpatient COVID-19 cases each day, with the number tripling over the past month. The number of ICU beds at the facility dedicated to COVID-19 patients is now roughly 21% according to Newman, up from 11% at the same time last month. Buncombe County public health director Stacie Saunders says the positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in the county has nearly doubled since November 23rd - the Monday before Thanksgiving - and is now 8.3%. She and the others who spoke Wednesday urged residents not to travel over the holidays, and avoid gatherings with people who do not live in their immediate household.