Buncombe County commissioners voted Wednesday afternoon to reinstate a indoor mask requirement for public buildings and facilities. The measure goes into effect immediately.
New COVID-19 cases continue to increase at levels alarming to Buncombe County health officials, as the Delta variant spreads further in North Carolina. During a briefing to commissioners, officials said the rate of COVID tests coming back positive in the county is now 8.5%, up from 7.2% on August 3rd. The new positivity rate is a six-fold increase from a month ago.
The vote to reinstitute the indoor mask requirement was 6-1, and came after about an hour of public comment full of people speaking against masks. Their criticisms ranged from medical misinformation to debunked conspiracy theories to claims of social distancing being an occult ritual. The sharp rise in COVID-19 cases was enough for the six Democrats on the board of commissioners to vote in favor of reinstating masks. In her remarks prior to the vote, commissioner Amanda Edwards said one COVID death is one too many. "Coming from the perspective of a mother, of a public school-aged child, I want to do everything in my power to protect him, his classmates, and school-aged children across Buncombe County," Edwards said. Robert Pressley, the only Republican on the board, was the lone no vote. Commissioners were initially supposed to vote Tuesday, but the severe weather that passed through the region causing flooding delayed the meeting one day.
The order does not apply to indoor 'worship, religious, or spiritual ceremonies', as well as funerals, weddings, or other 'activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights.' The city of Asheville and the towns of Montreat, Weaverville, and Woodfin are all covered by the county order.
While the positivity rate of COVID testing has risen in Buncombe County, so has the vaccination rate, sparked in part by new $100 gift cards given to those receiving their first shot this month. 62% of the county's entire population has received at least one shot, while 58% are fully vaccinated. That's the highest rate in Western North Carolina. This week Jackson County became the second in the region to have 50% of its population fully vaccinated. (Check county vaccine rates here) Macon County would appear to be next to hit that level, followed by Henderson and Madison Counties.