WNC COVID-19 Updates: Buncombe County Issues "Stay Home Stay Safe" Order

Mar 11, 2020

Find  COVID-19 resources and the latest case count  in North Carolina here and testing information here.

(3/26 6:30 p.m.)  Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos, which includes Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort & Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, have extended the temporary closure period for an additional two weeks.  

During the extended closure period, Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos will continue to pay its team members and benefits will not be interrupted. 

The decision comes from "the company’s dedication in slowing the progression of the virus and protecting its team members and local communities," according to a press release. There is not reopening date scheduled at this point. 

(3/26 6 p.m.) The town of Franklin has issued an addition to their state of emergency which bans lodging accommodations with just a few exceptions. The order also recommends that anyone relocating to Franklin to get away from a virus hot zone will be subject to quarantine or isolation for 14 days by order of the Macon County Health department. The declaration outlines  the states of New York, New Jersey, Washington,  Florida and any other locations where "community spread" has occurred. This restriction is to limit the spread of the virus. 

(3/26 4 p.m.) 

Cherokee County currently has six cases isolating in the county - one of the highest numbers in Western North Carolina. The town of Murphy has enacted curfews and on Monday, Mayor Rick Ramsey added a restriction to close the local parks in hopes that more residents would socially distance. 

Unlike others, Ramsey says he isn’t worried about homeowners from other states coming to stay. 

“We will have our normal influx of our great friends from Florida and other places. Our Snowbirds. They own land here. We are as much of them as they are of us," says Ramsey. They will be travelling and hopefully taking great precautions to keep their hands clean and things like that but we welcome them.”

Like many local officials Ramsey’s biggest concern is the impact that closures will have on local businesses. He especially encourages residents to support local restaurants.

(3/26 p.m.) On Wednesday evening, the town of Highlands in Macon County enacted additional measures to ban lodging in the town (with a few exceptions) as well as adding in restrictions for visitors. Anyone coming to Highlands as an overnight guest or a second homeowner will be required to quarantine for 14 days. If you have a house guest coming from out of town, you will also be required to quarantine for 14 days. The town says it will issue direct communication with all taxpayers living out of town to not come to Highlands. On Thursday, Highlands Police set up check points to let visitors know about there restrictions as they enter the town.

 

(3/26 2:30 p.m.)  Haywood County has issued a stay home proclamation. A press release from the county states  commissioners enacted an amendment to the county’s Emergency Proclamation.   

The new proclamation requires:  1) that residents remain at home unless they need to leave for essential travel, and 2) that non-essential businesses cease operations.  The Proclamation contains definitions of essential businesses and essential travel to give guidance.  The proclamation is on the County’s website:  www.haywoodcountync.gov under the coronavirus info tab.  The Proclamation takes effect at    5 p.m. on March 26 and remains in effect through April 16, 2020.

On Wednesday, Buncombe County issued a Stay Home  - Stay Safe declaration.  Scroll down for more details. 

(3/26 12:30 p.m.) 

In an effort to increase access to safe dining options, the City of Asheville has amended the  State of Emergency declaration to exempt food trucks and restaurants from certain portions of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance. Among the suspended restrictions:  the restriction on mobile food vendors from operating anywhere other than a permitted mobile food site.  A press release from the city notes the move allows food trucks to operate in residential areas and bring food to more communities such as food deserts.  The changes will remain in effect until the city’s State of Emergency ends.  You can find out more here. 

(3/26 12 p.m.) 

The Cherokee County Health Department has announced that a Cherokee County resident who just returned from a cruise has tested positive for COVID – 19 .

The Cherokee County Health Department says it was notified that the resident was exposed  to a person with a confirmed case of the virus on a cruise line. At the time that the Health Department was notified, the patient had known of their exposure for approximately five days and had self-quarantined since notification. The individual developed mild symptoms and the Health Department coordinated testing for COVID-19. They are being monitored and following isolation orders in Cherokee County. 

(3/26 10 a.m) On Wednesday, Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians rescinded some of the restrictions on public spaces for tribal citizens to "promote health and well-being.” The Oconoluftee Island Park, Fire Mountain Trail, Mingo and Soco Falls all open.

Just hours later, Sneed announced a curfew on all tribal trust lands between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  The curfew will be enforced by tribal police.

Non-tribal members are still restricted from entering the Qualla Boundary with a few exceptions.

(3/25 2:30 p.m.) Update: 3/26 Buncombe County Officials say they have received hundreds of  exemption requests from businesses and questions from the public.   They addressed many of those questions at a live press conference. Find links to the declaration and FAQs below

Buncombe County has announced a Stay Home  - Stay Safe  supplemental declaration in an effort slow the spread of the coronavirus. This declaration directs all Buncombe County residents to “Stay Home – Stay Safe” and to limit movements outside of their homes that are not deemed essential. 

Buncombe County Commissioner Brownie Newman signed the delcaration Wednesday afternoon and stressed that the declaration is not as restrictive as a shelter in place order.  People providing essential services, like healthcare and transportation, can still go to their jobs.  Activities such as grocery shopping and exercising are also allowed. The measure goes into effect Thursday March 26,  at 8 p.m. and lasts until April 9, at 6 a.m    You can find a copy of the declaration here along with frequently asked questions here. Business owners who feel their business should be covered should email the county  at business@buncombecounty.org  

(3/25 11:15 a.m.) The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting the first COVID-19 associated deaths.  According to a NCDHHS press release, a person from Cabarrus County died on March 24 from complications associated with the virus.

  The patient was in their late seventies and had several underlying medical conditions. A second person in their sixties, from Virginia who was traveling through North Carolina also died from COVID-19 complications. To protect the families’ privacy, no further information about these patients will be released.  NCDHHS is reporting at least 504 cases of COVID-19. That's up by over 100 cases from yesterday's daily tally.    

(3/25 11 a.m.) Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital is partnering with Cherokee, Clay and Graham County Health Departments to open a Coronavirus Community Information line.

Cherokee County has one of the highest counts of cases isolating with 5 confirmed cases. Three are Cherokee County residents, one is from Illinois and the other is from New York. All 5 cases originated from the New York case. The hotline will open on Thursday, community members can call 828-835-4258 with questions for a healthcare provider.

(3/25 8 a.m.) Buncombe County Commissioners held a special meeting Tuesday night  to address organzing relief efforts for people and businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.  The proposed campaign would be branded as "One Buncombe"  says Commissioner Brownie Newman .

A public hearing on the  campaign will be held at the next county commissioners meeting on April 7.   Asheville City Council members  also addressed the "One Buncombe" campaign  during their meeting Tuesday night.   The council voted to give Mayor Esther Manheimmer more decision making power to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

(3/24 5 p.m.) The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is holding a special meeting  to address COVID-19 responses. Tune in now BCTV

(3/24 3p.m.) Buncombe County is expected to  become the first in Western North Carolina to issue a shelter in place mandate.  Madison County has issued recommendations.  At a coronavirus news briefing this afternoon, Fletcher Tove, Buncombe County’s preparedness coordinator said the action is needed as public health data suggest the window to slow the spread of COVID-19 is coming to a close. 

Tove says the declaration will mandate a ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ campaign.   He says it will place further limitations on mass gatherings, expand mandated closures of local businesses and enact guidelines on essential and nonessential travel. Public health officials  expect to release more details about the supplemental mandate on Wednesday.

(3/24 2:45 p.m.)  The city of Asheville will implement a 10-person maximum limit on ART buses starting Wednesday.  More buses will be added to the busiest routes to accomodate the need created by the move.

The 10-person maximum limit per bus - which includes the driver - falls in line with social distancing guidelines the city is following due to te COVID-19 outbreak.  The limit will be in place until further notice.  Route 170 will not run its 7:30 or 9:30 morning routes according to the city in order to allow the S6 route availability for overflow in its 7:45 and 9:15 morning trips.

DuPont State Recreational Forest and the neighboring Holmes Education Forest will close at 10 p.m. Tuesday night.  That includes all trails, trailheads, parking lots, parking areas, and facilities.  The Blue Ridge Parkway will close its southernmost 14 miles Tuesday.  This portion of the road goes through the Qualla Boundary and ends at the entrace of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians already put in place travel restrictions on roads through the Qualla Boundary, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was closed by the National Park Service at noon Tuesday.

Pardee UNC Health's hospital in Hendersonville will end visitation on Wednesday.  It was the last hospital in Western North Carolina to allow visitors, though anyone who entered the facility was being screened for COVID-19.  In an effort to limit person-to-person exposure, Asheville police will handle service calls for non-emergency crimes only over the phone.  Such crimes include -

  • Stolen property of a value less than $1000 (this does not include residential or commercial breaking and entering, stolen firearms, and stolen motor vehicles)
  • Damage to property (with a minimal amount of damage)
  • Harassing phone calls
  • Fraud, scams, or identity theft
  • Lost property
  • Other information only reports which do not require immediately police action and/or enforcement

(3/24/ 11:30 a.m.)  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close at noon Tuesday, with only the Foothills Parkway and the Spur remaining open as National Park Service officials look to aid in preventing the spread of COVID-19.  The closure will remain in effect until April 6th.

Jurisdictions within the park - including the Qualla Boundary and Graham County - had already put in place travel restrictions to keep outside visitors away.  Swain County, parts of which are also within the park, issued an emergency declaration which closed all accomodations such as hotels and campgrounds Monday.

(03/24) 11a.m.  Madison County  has issued a shelter in place recommendation.    A post on the               Madison County Facebook page states, “We are taking steps to protect all of our residents and to avoid overwhelming our healthcare facilities.  At this time, the county commissioners and public health department are recommending that you shelter in place” The post explains that residents should  only leave home for essential travel – for food, medicine, medical visits and work that cannot be conducted at home.

(3/24 10:30 a.m.) Macon County Health Department has released more details about the COVID-19 case announced in Jackson County on Monday.  On Sunday, March 22, 2020, Macon County Public Health was notified that an individual at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) tested positive for COVID-19, explains a press release. The person was then transported to Mission in Asheville. The patient is a resident of Maryland and traveled to their secondary residence in Jackson County, where they became ill, and then went to Highlands-Cashiers emergency room for care. Jackson County Health Department were notified of the positive results and are working to identify close contacts.

Jackscon County Health Department has confirmed that this is the same case they announced on Monday. 

(3/23 2:30 p.m.)  North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has announced public schools in the state will remain closed until May 15th.  Gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair & nail salons, barbershops, and massage therapy parlors must also close by 5 p.m. Wednesday under the governor's executive order issued Monday.

Cooper says he is hopeful schools will be able to reconvene for in-person classes by the end of the school year, but admitted during a Monday press conference in Raleigh that circumstances could cause them to adjust his newest executive order and keep schools closed longer.  When asked why he has not yet issued a shelter in place order as has been seen in other states, the governor said they are "preparing for every scenario...the situation is constantly evolving."

At the same press conference, state department of health and human services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the CDC has modified its guidelines on how to be tested for COVID-19.  "For those who think they might have COVID-19 and have mild symptoms - fever or cough - the CDC has now recommended that you stay at home," Cohen said.  "You can call your doctor (or local health department) to see if you need to be seen in the office or another setting."

In Asheville, the city police department announced all of its buildings - including the Municipal Building and all district resource centers - are closed to the public.  Those who wish to contact the police department for non-emergencies can call 828-252-1110.  Asheville City Council will hold its regularly scheduled Tuesday evening meeting, though there will be no public attendance allowed.   Mayor Esther Manheimer and council members Shaneika Smith and Keith Young will participate in the meeting and vote by phone.  All public comment residents wish to submit for the meeting must be sent by 5 p.m. Monday using this Google form.

(3/23 1:30 p.m.)  A part-time Jackson County resident that tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is being monitored by health officials. The patient is in isolation and the household member of the patient is in self-quarantine in Jackson County.

Since the patient is a part-time resident of Jackson County, the case will be identified in their home state, not in North Carolina. The case will not show up on the North Carolina map as a Jackson County case. To comply with State and Federal privacy requirements, no additional information about the patient will be released at this time.

“There is a confirmed a case of COVID-19 in a part time resident of Jackson County,” says Health Director Shelley Carraway, in an email. "In response, we are urging residents to be extra vigilant in their individual efforts to help prevent the spread of the coronovirus. Please, stay at home as much as possible."

Monday night, following the first case of COVID-19 in Jackson County, County Commissioners issued an update to their state of emergency. Beyond the businesses closed by executive order of the governor, the declaration issues the closure of all lodging facilities starting Wednesday at 5pm. There are exemptions for work travel, the local homeless program  and for emergency housing.  Jackson County first issued a state of emergency on March 16. 

(3/23 10:30 a.m.)  Henderson County has confirmed its second COVID-19 case Monday morning, with the county health department saying in a press release it presumes community spread has started, meaning more cases are expected to be confirmed this week.

Both Henderson County cases are in isolation, and authorities are reaching out to anyone who may have been in close contact with them.  The COVID-19 testing site the county ran in partnership with Pardee UNC Health shut down last Thursday after more than 280 tests were adminstered.  It will reopen once more test kits are available.

(3/22/ 6:00 p.m.)  Buncombe County authorities announced two more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in county residents to three.

One of the cases Sunday involves a person who was in close contact with the first case connected to Buncombe County that was announced last week in a New York resident who traveled to Asheville on March 10 to the 13th, before traveling on to Macon County where they are now isolating.  The individual whose test was confirmed Sunday has been in isolation since March 15th when they were tested.

The other new case confirmed Sunday is in a person who had recent out-of-state travel, which is believed to be the cause of their infection.  They were tested of March 17th and have been in isolation ever since, though they first saw symptoms two days earlier.  Staff from the Buncombe County Health & Human Services Communicable Disease staff are getting in contact with anyone who may have been in close contact with any of the three cases announced over the weekend to offer the appropriate guidance. 

All three of the new cases are said to be doing well under home isolation according to a county press release.  On Saturday, Buncombe County health director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore said the number of cases was expected to rise because test results done over the past week will start to come in.  A press release from the county Sunday says over 200 test results are pending.

(3/22 11:30 a.m.) AdventHealth Hendersonville is joining Mission Health is stopping all visitation at its facilities.  The announcements came on the day the first local cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Western North Carolina.

The only exception for visitors at AdventHealth facilities will be for OB patients in The Baby Place, and pediatric patients in the ER.  Each may have one adult visitor.  AdventHealth runs one hospital in Hendersonville.  Other hospitals in Western North Carolina also have varying restrictions on visitation.  Pardee UNC Health, which also operates a hospital in Hendersonville, is screening all visitors as they enter.

Two Duke LifePoint hospitals in Western North Carolina - Haywood Regional Medical Center in Waynesville and Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva - have also stopped visitation.  The only exceptions are for patients who are gravely ill, and for the labor and delivery unit at Harris, where one suport person will be allowed.  At Erlanger Western Carolina hospital in Murphy, only one 'care partner' - defined as a family member, guardian, or friend appointed by the patient - will be allowed, provided the person "accepts mutually-agreed upon patient care responsibilities during and between specific episodes of care."

Starting Monday, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close all campgrounds, picnic areas, and restrooms in the park.  Visitor centers had already been closed last week.  Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park Service starting Sunday is imposing a ten-person maximum use permit for all backcountry camping locations in accordance with CDC guidelines on social distancing.  The Parkway visitor center in Asheville was closed last week, but outdoor spaces along the parkway do remain open.  Visitors are urged if they go to those outdoor areas to maintain social distancing guidance from the CDC.

(3/21 7:30 p.m.) Mission Hospital announced it is suspending elective surgeries,  increasing visitor restrictions and reducing the number of entrances.    A press release sent out on Saturday says Mission Hospital will of all non-essential surgery and procedures effective Monday, March 23, in response to new CMS Guidelines issued as a result of the growing COVID-19 outbreak. 

In addition, Mission Health will be elevating visitor restrictions to Level 3, and will no longer allow visitors to any facilities until further notice. The exception will be for our pediatric patients, who will be allowed to have one adult visitor with them at a time.

The new entrances will be limited to:

Entrance 1: Emergency Department – open 24/7 to patients (ONLY PUBLIC ENTRANCE)

· Entrance 9: Labor and Delivery – accessible 24/7, for expecting mothers only

(3/21 11:45 a.m.)  Health officials in Buncombe, Henderson, and Cherokee Counties announced the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in local residents Saturday morning.  The prior two cases of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina were residents of New York who traveled to the region, and are isolating here.   Few details were offered about the Buncombe and Henderson County cases.  Both are in isolation.  The Henderson County health department said it was notified by Mission Health the person had tested positive.  Buncombe County and Henderson County officials  offered further details at an afternoon press update on the case  - find it here.

In Cherokee County, three residents along an individual from Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19.  Two of the three county residents were 'household contacts' of the first case reported in Cherokee County earlier this week, an individual of New York who had traveled there.  A social media post from the Cherokee County Health Department says the person from Illinois who tested positive was staying with the first case.  All four have been in isolation since the testing was done on the person from New York.

The other Cherokee County COVID-19 case is in a person who attended a contra dance on March 10th at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown that the original case from New York had attended.  Health officials there are now tracing any contacts the individual had since that event.  Anyone who attended the event and is feeling symptoms of COVID-19 - fever with cough or shortness of breath - is asked to contact their county health department.  The dance is the lone public event the original Cherokee County case was known to have attended in the area before being tested and isolated.

(3/20 4:00 p.m.)  The runoff election to determine the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  The election between Lynda Bennett and Madison Cawthorn will now take place on June 23rd, six weeks later than the original date of May 12th.  

The State Board of Elections made the decision Friday afternoon, saying given the uncertainty on social distancing restrictions and when they may end, a later date is now required.  Absentee ballots were due to be printed and mailed starting next week.  The declaration also stated the runoff date could be pushed back further if needed.  Bennett and Cawthorn finished first and second in this month’s primary election, but neither came close to the 30-percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff in the GOP primary.  The winner will face Democrat Moe Davis in the fall, with the victor replacing soon to be White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in representing Western North Carolina in Congress.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper tweeted Friday that a full shelter in place order for North Carolina is not coming for now.  California Governor Gavin Newsom did issue one for his state, while leaders in other states and large cities mulled the decision as well Friday.

Governor Roy Cooper issued this tweet Friday afternoon

(3/20 1 pm) After news that a COVID-19 patient from New York is isolating in Cherokee County. The county Commissioners voted not to declare a state of emergency on Thursday evening in a 4 to 1 vote. However, the towns of Murphy and Andrews in Cherokee County did. Both towns also established curfews that will begin on Friday night.

In Murphy, pedestrians are prohibited in the town limits - except for customers or employees walking to their vehicles - from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. In Andrews, pedestrians are prohibited from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Violators could face imprisonment and/or a fine, according to the Cherokee Scout. 

(3/20 2:30) 

Buncombe County health officials have announced they are stopping drive through testing now that a case of community-spread COVID-19 has been reported in North Carolina. Buncombe County medical director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore says the move will help save resources like personal protective equipment and protect health care personnel who she says will be critical as COVID-19 spreads into the community.

“The second reason,” says Dr. Mullendore, “ is we know most people who become ill with COVID-19,  have mild illness. If you have a mild cold, you don’t necessarily go to the doctor.  It’s something a person can manage at home safely. We want to reframe this if you have symptoms of fever, and lower respiratory symptoms like a cough, stay home manage your symptoms there, reach out to your healthcare provider if you are concerned your symptoms are worsening.

(3/20 12:15 pm)  In response to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, Western Carolina University  is postponing all spring commencement ceremonies originally scheduled for May 8 and 9, and will announce by April 3 plans for rescheduling the events.   

The decision to postpone commencement ceremonies was made after consultation with faculty and student leaders, WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said. Students who complete all academic requirements for graduation at the end of the spring semester will be awarded their degrees and will be able to request official transcripts after all degrees have been certified by the WCU registrar.

In addition, university leaders do not expect face-to-face classes to resume before the end of the spring semester, and students should plan to continue online or alternative instruction as directed by their professors through May 8.Decisions about summer courses and activities beyond study-abroad programs, which already have been canceled, will be announced by April 3.

(3/20 11:30 am) 

On Thursday evening Chief Sneed announced an executive order to close of all public visitor spaces on the Qualla Boundary including the Oconaluftee (Ah-co-na-luft-te) Island Park and Fire Mountain Trails, as well as other public areas. The order also limits gatherings to 10 people maximum.

Sneed says that these precautions are to limit visitors from outside of the boundary.

“I’m asking the public to postpone visits to Cherokee until a time when this outbreak is under control. I would also ask that our tribal citizens make every effort not to travel and to stay close to home,” says Sneed in a video.  

There are no positive cases of COVID-19 on the Qualla Boundary at this time. The Eastern Band declared a state of emergency on March 13. 

Here’s the full list of closures:  Oconaluftee Island Park, Fire Mountain Trails, Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, Little Snowbird Playground, Skate Park, Wolfetown Soccer Field, Big Cove Stickball Field, Birdtown Batting Cages, Yellowhill and Soco open-air basketball court as well as all picnic areas and playgrounds.

 (3/19 4:30 p.m.)  Buncombe County officials announced mandatory closures of gyms, indoor pools, spas, movie theaters, and live performance venues starting at 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing.

The county's public health emergency preparedness coordinator Fletcher Tove says the new round of closures includes all fitness centers and arcades as well.  It goes further than what the state already announced earlier in the week, when public schools were shut down for two weeks in North Carolina and all bars and restaurants closed except for takeout and delivery service.  Tove says the new Buncombe County order does not affect grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, hardware stores, farmer's markets, gas stations, and food distribution sites selling prepared food.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper meanwhile says parents and students should expect schools to be closed longer than the original two week order that ends March 30th.  After announcing the first COVID-19 case due to 'community spread' in the state Thursday afternoon, Cooper said it's likely schools will be out "for a longer period of time."  The first North Carolina community spread case - where someone contracted COVID-19 despite having not traveled or been in close contact with a known positive case - was confirmed in Wilson County.

The city of Asheville is making ART bus service fare-free starting Friday March 20th.  The move was done to limit interaction and exposure between drivers, riders, and money handlers according to a press release from the city.  Riders will also only be able to use rear entrances of buses to get on and off, and hand sanitizer will be available on all buses.  The city will also suspend fees and enforcement for street parking and city garages through April 5th.  That does not apply to privately owned parking lots.

ABC stores in Asheville will shorten their open hours starting Friday.  The hours will now be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The U.S. Forest Service is extending public comment time for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest plan.  Several public meetings scheduled for this month throughout Western North Carolina on the plan have been canceled due to COVID-19.  The Forest Service says it will release the new end date for public comment once it goes through the Public Register.

(3/18 10:30 pm) Cherokee County health officials  say a New York resident that tested positive for COVID – 19 is being monitored and following isolation orders in Cherokee County. The patient traveled to Cherokee County, where they became ill and were tested and placed on isolation. 

Since cases are reported under the state of residency, this case will be identified as a New York State case.   The Cherokee County Health Department is working to identify close contacts.  On Monday, the first case of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina was confirmed in a patient that is isolating in Macon County after visiting Asheville

(3/18 11:45 am) The Spring LEAF Festival is the latest major event to officially cancel because of the Coronavirus. Originally scheduled for May 14-17, LEAF is now focusing on its fall festival, set for Oct. 22-25 in Black Mountain. What was originally called the Lake Eden Arts Festival has been held each spring and fall for 25 years.

(3/18 7:30 a.m.)  Buncombe County commissioners Tuesday night approved $500-thousand in emergency funding to help with the response to COVID-19.

The funding will be used for a variety of needs according to a press release from the county.  That includes protective equipment, school meal supplies, an Emergency Operations Center consultant, and other public safety needs. “There are things we will need to do that we don’t even know about. As the plan takes shape, let us know. We can convene as needed if there are additional resources that are needed,” said county board chair Brownie Newman in a statement.

A second COVID-19 testing site will open Wednesday in Henderson County.  It will operate from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at AdventHealth's Hendersonville hospital.  The other site in the county is on Blue Ridge Community College's Flat Rock campus operated in partnership with Henderson County and UNC Pardee Health.

All events, classes, and meetings are canceled at public libraries in Henderson County.  Libraries themselves will not close, but signs will be posted at entrances asking people who are sick not to enter, and that those who do should limit their visits to 30 minutes.  Parks in Henderson County will not close, but users are asked to respect others by keeping their groups small and provide everyone with appropriate social distancing.

Starting Wednesday, Mission Health will further limit visitation at its hospitals.  Only one visitor at a time over the age of 18 will be allowed to visit individual patients.  The only exceptions to that will be for pediatrics, NICU, laboring advocates, pre- and post-surgery, and end of life services.

(3/17 3:00 p.m.)  All bars and restaurants in North Carolina will be limited to takeout and delivery service starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening.  Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order that mandates the action, as well as expands the ability of workers affected by COVID-19 to receive unemployment benefits from the state.

Cooper outlined five changes in the executive order that will allow workers to get unemployment faster, including waiving both the one-week waiting period needed to apply and the requirement that a person be seeking another job to receive benefits.  Residents will also be able to apply for benefits online or over the phone. 

All public libraries and county parks were closed Tuesday in Buncombe County, and access to county facilities that house nonessential functions are restricted or closed.  The county's permitting office is closed by permitting is still available.  Biltmore has furthered shut down access to the estate to visitors.  All that remains open for the rest of March are the gardens and grounds at Biltmore.  Restaurants will only offer takeout at Antler Hill Village, where there will also be limited retail offerings.  The National Park Service has shut down the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville.  The nearby Folk Art Center remains open, as do all accessible trails along the Parkway.  Three visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Oconaluftee, Sugarlands, and Cades Cove - have also been closed by the park service.

(3/17 11:00 a.m.)  North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is issuing an executive order that mandates bars and restaurants in the state only offer takeout and delivery service starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

Cooper will elaborate more on the order at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.  The order will also expand unemployment insurance for workers who are being affected by closures due to COVID-19.  On Monday, Buncombe County authorities said they were asking but not mandating that bars and restaurants go to takeout and delivery only, but were considering making the action mandatory.

(3/17 10:30 a.m.)  Buncombe County opened two drive-through COVID-19 screening sites Tuesday.  They're located at Biltmore Church in Arden and on the campus of UNC Asheville.

The site at UNC Asheville is in parking lot P28 off of W.T. Weaver Boulevard.  Both sites will operate until 6 p.m. Tuesday, and then from 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday.  Based on the availability of testing supplies, the sites will operate the rest of the week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

A steady stream of cars file through the COVID-19 testing site at UNC Asheville.

Only residents who exhibit the symptoms of COVID-19 - fever with either cough or shortness of breath - or those who have been in contact with a known COVID-19 case and are exhibiting any of the symptoms are asked to come to the testing sites.  Those who do are asked to stay in their vehicle as they will be directed where to go for the necessary paperwork before they are tested.  Testing is available to all, regardless of income or ability to pay.

(3/17 9:30 a.m.) The city of Asheville is closing city hall and other municipal buildings starting Tuesday.  Many city employees will start telecommuting to minimize person-to-person contact to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile Asheville City schools started meal delivery service Tuesday.  Lunches will be delivered at Pisgah View Apartments, Hillcrest Apartments, Klondyke Apartments, and the Edington Center each day from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  There will also be drive-through meals offered at Issac Dickson Elementary from 2-4 p.m. each afternoon.

(3/16 2:45 pm)  Buncombe County authorities are asking - but not mandating - that bars and restaurants offer takeout and delivery services only.  The decision comes on the day the first COVID-19 case tied to the county was confirmed.

The announcement was made at a Monday afternoon press conference.  Fletcher Tove, the county's public health emergency preparedness coordinator, says they are not making their request mandatory because many bars, breweries, and restaurants have already made the decision on their own.  He does add they have discussed making it mandatory.  "But right now we're asking for buy-in.  It's a big ask," Tove said.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 is an individual from New York who visited Asheville from March 10 the 13th, before traveling on to Macon County where they are now isolating.  Buncombe County health director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore says the person has been co-operative with health authorities.  She added that an investigation is underway into where the person visited in Asheville and whether they were in close contact with anyone.  

While the first public drive-through COVID-19 screening site in the region was set up Monday in Henderson County, another one is expected to be up and running in Buncombe County later this week.  That's according to Dr. William Hathaway, the chief medical officer for HCA's North Carolina Division which includes Mission Health facilities.  He says there have thus far they have had no confirmed cases, but they expect that to change.  

Meanwhile, Harrah's announced the two casinos it operates on the Qualla Boundary that are owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will close for two weeks starting Wednesday.  Employees will be paid during that time and benefits will not be interrupted.

(3/16 11:15 am)   This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is available  Source: Buncombe County Department Health Human Services: Today Macon County Public Health announced a presumptive positive case of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) in a person who visited Buncombe County last week. This is the first known presumptive positive case of COVID-19 associated with Buncombe County.

The individual visited Asheville March 10-13, 2020, at which time they had symptoms of COVID-19. They were tested by BCHHS Communicable Disease staff and immediately traveled on to Macon County for isolation. The individual has been cooperative with all public health requests. BCHHS public health staff are conducting an active investigation into this individual’s activities during their time in Buncombe County. More information will be provided as we identify potential close contacts. BCHHS will not release further details about the individual to protect their privacy.BCHHS Medical Director, Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, urges the public to remain calm in response to this news, saying, “It is important that our community remain calm, stay informed and be prepared for the spread of this illness. It is critical that everyone follow the guidance to stay home when sick. Additionally, everyone needs to wash their hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes. High-risk people – those over 65 years of age or with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems – should stay at home to decrease their chance of being infected.”Macon County Public Health Officials released the following statement:  A New York resident that tested positive for COVID – 19 is being monitored and following isolation orders inMacon County. The test, conducted by the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health, is presumptivelypositive and will be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The patient is doing well andis in isolation. The patient is a resident of New York State and traveled to Buncombe County, where theybecame ill and were tested, and then traveled to Macon County. Since cases are reported under the state ofresidency, this case will be identified as a New York State case, not a North Carolina case. Therefore, thiscase will not show up on the North Carolina maps as a Macon County case.While awaiting confirmation of results from the CDC, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Macon County Public Health will treat presumptive cases as positive and follow CDC guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection. 

Macon County Health spokesperson Kathy McGaha explained to BPR that the person.  Following instructions to isolate, the person travelled to a private residence in Macon and have been isolated there with limited contact with anyone.  

McGaha says if anyone has any questions they can call Macon County COVID-19 Call Center  at 828-349-2517.

The Macon County and Buncombe County Health Departments are working to identify close contacts. 

(3/16 10:15 am)  A COVID-19 screening site has been set up on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock.  It is open to the public, but only for people who qualify by exhibiting symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, and a fever of 100 degrees or more.  They must first call the Pardee UNC Health COVID-19 Helpline at 828-694-8048 to see if they qualify.  The drive-through site is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and the helpline is accepting calls from 8 to 8 everyday.  No one under the age of 12 will be screened.  If anyone gets into line at the screening site that has not called the Helpline, they will be pulled out of line and must then call it according to a Pardee spokeswoman.

(3/16 7:00 am)  With public schools closed in North Carolina for the next two weeks, Buncombe County will start offering breakfast and lunch each weekday to those aged 2 to 18.

Breakfast will be served each day from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at 12 elementary and intermediate schools in the county -

  • Oakley Elementary
  • Johnston Elementary
  • Emma Elementary
  • West Buncombe Elementary
  • Woodfin Elementary
  • Hominy Valley Elementary
  • Pisgah Elementary
  • Owen High School
  • Black Mountain Primary
  • Weaverville Elementary
  • North Windy Ridge Intermediate
  • Estes Elementary

The YMCA will be operating food distribution sites during the outbreak, even though it is closing down its facilities for at least two weeks.  On Monday, it is will distribute food from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at La Casa del Alfrero Church at 2040 New Leicester Highway.  The shutdown of schools does mean the vast majority of afterschool programs the YMCA runs will be closed, though an emergency child care program will be offered for Buncombe County public school teachers starting today at Beaverdam.  Meanwhile Beloved Asheville is accepting donations of food and supplies for preparedness kits today from 8:30 to 5:30 at its offices at 10 North Market Street in Asheville.

(3/14 5:30 pm)  Public schools will close in North Carolina will close for at least two weeks starting Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak.  Governor Roy Cooper made the announcement Saturday afternoon after issuing an executive order which also bans gatherings of more than 100 people across North Carolina.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina is now up to 23 in 12 different counties.  There continue to be no confirmed cases in Western North Carolina.  At a press conference Thursday, the governor and state health officials recommended that gatherings of 100 or more people be canceled.  But after some venues decided to keep events scheduled, Cooper said Saturday an executive order was needed to make ban mandatory.  The executive order keeps public schools closed until March 30th.

(3/14)  Your next late-night run to the local grocery store may be cut short. Harris Teeter and Publix supermarkets announced they will close stores early every night to focus on cleaning, replenishment, and the well-being of their workers. Publix stores will close at 8 p.m. starting tonight. Harris Teeter stores will close at 9 p.m. starting tomorrow, Sunday, March 15 and continue to open at their regular scheduled time.

(3/14) Henderson County has declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus.  The declaration ‘includes all the unincorporated areas of Henderson County, and, with the consent of the City of Hendersonville, the Town of Laurel Park, the Town of Fletcher, and Town of Mills River and the Village of Flat Rock, in the incorporated areas of those municipalities’ https://tinyurl.com/hencovid19

(3/14 1:00 pm)  Biltmore says it will suspend operations at various sites on the estate for two weeks starting Tuesday.  That includes stopping tours of the Biltmore House.   Tours of the Biltmore House, as well as restaurants and stores ajdacent to it including the Deerpark Restaurant will close from March 17th to the 31st.  The Downton Abbey exhibition will also close, and trolleys that run on the estate will also stop.  The grounds will remain open during that time, as will the Inn, Village Hotel, Antler Hill Village, and the Biltmore Winery.

(3/14 11:40 am) Duke Energy says it will suspend service disconnections over unpaid bills due to COVID-19.  The city of Asheville is doing the same for water service.

A short statement on the Duke website said, " We know many customers may be facing unusual financial hardships as a result of COVID-19. That’s why we’re suspending disconnections for nonpayment effective immediately. We will continue to look for ways to support customer needs during this pandemic."

(3/13 10:50 pm)  Public schools were still open Friday in North Carolina, though the Asheville City school system sent its strongest signal yet that it is preparing for the contingency where schools are closed.

All elementary school students received at-home learning packets on Friday.  Then on Monday, all 3rd through 5th graders will receive take home devices such as laptops and tablets.  Sixth through 12th graders will be able to file assignments through an online portal.  WiFi hotspots can be borrowed at media centers within schools for those who do not have internet access at home.

(3/13 5 p.m) AdventHealth Hendersonville is expanding its response to COVID-19.  Beginning Monday, March 16, the hospital says it is temporarily postponing elective surgeries and procedures.  A press release notes Advent  Health will continue to provide emergency surgical care.

(3/13 1 p.m.) - Stephanie Brown CEO of Explore Asheville says  the coronavirus presents unique challenges compared to natural  or other disasters with geographical boundaries.   Brown says along with regular updates from federal, state and local health officials, the organization is pulling back on marketing around the country for the short term in reponse to COVID-19.  She says  Explore Asheville has commissioned  a survey to asses the impact of the virus on  travel intentions from core markets around the country and they expect the results early next week.  

(3/13 11:30am)  The medical director of Cherokee Indian Hospital says a patient has been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) at the facility, but is not a health threat to the community. “We have received numerous concerns about a patient that was recently under investigation at our facility for covid-19 or coronavirus,” said Dr. Richard Bunio, Cherokee Indian Hospital's medical director explained via Facebook. “ We want to assure you that while we are waiting for test results from the state lab, this patient is very low risk. This patient poses no threat to the community.”  The Eastern Band has cancelled all tribal employee business travel. Here’s an additional list of cancelled events in Cherokee as of Thursday afternoon.

(3/13 6:45 am) - Following Buncombe County, the city of Asheville late Thursday also declared a state of emergency.  It effectively prohibits any gathering of more than 100 people on city-owned property, which includes Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville.   The postponement or cancelation of shows at concerts at the facility started in earnest Thursday.  Mayor Esther Manheimer says the city is also trying to find ways for the public to participate in government meetings without being at them physically.

(3/12) 10:30 pm) - Southwestern Community College will extend its spring break through March 22nd for all in-person classes, following in the footsteps of other community colleges in North Carolina.  Regularly scheduled online classes will resume on Monday.

Following Major League Baseball's decision Thursday to suspend spring training and delay the start of its season, Minor League Baseball will also delay the start of its season.  That means the Asheville Tourists will not start play on April 9th.  Their first home game was scheduled for April 16th.

Other event postponements announced Thursday include next weekend's Get In Gear Festival in Asheville at Salvage Station.  Organizers hope to reschedule it for later in the year.  Comedian Jeff Dunham's show at Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville on March 21st has been moved to July 9th.  And the Center For Cultural Preservation's Appalachian Storytelling event will now be live streamed.  Only those who purchased tickets for the show will be able to watch the live stream. 

(3/12 5:40pm) The COVID-19 outbreak has compelled the Asheville Symphony to cancel three public events over the coming weeks for the season. The orchestra won’t reschedule a March 17 charity event an Asheville wine bar and concerts March 21 and April 4 at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Masterworks Series concerts April 18-19 are still on the orchestra’s calendar.

(3/12 5 pm )AB Tech Community College has announced it will  extend spring break by one week and move to online and virtual instruction immediately afterward where possible.  Spring break is scheduled from March 16-20 and will be extended through Friday, March 27.   Classes will resume online and virtually on Monday, March 30. The college says it  will then reassess instruction delivery on a weekly basis based on guidance from Buncombe County public health officials.

(3/12 4:45 pm) North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is urging the postponement of gatherings over 100 people after "multiple new cases" statewide Thursday. Governor Cooper was joined by state leaders who urged the enhanced guidelines. Starting Friday, Cooper is asking businesses to allow eligible employees to work from home while also urging anyone sick to stay home.  "North Carolina has more tough decisions ahead, and we will be ready to make them. We have the benefit of learning from other countries and other states about the best ways to fight this pandemic,” said Governor Cooper. “We know that if we can slow the spread of this virus now, then fewer people will be infected or become seriously ill. And we can be more effective in avoiding an overload of our medical system. It will save lives.”

(3/12 4:30pm) Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva says it has not treated any patients with coronavirus(COVID-19) at the hospital to date. It is taking the following measures to prepare, in accordance with CDC guidelines:

  • Patients in the Emergency Department and inpatient units are screened based on their recent travel history.
  • Personal protective equipment is available, including face masks and eye protection
  • Hand hygiene products are easily accessible throughout the facility.

(3/12 3 p.m.) Buncombe County is declaring a state of emergency. At the weekly COVID-19 media briefing County Commissioner Brownie Newman read the resolution and told reporters the declaration makes the county and municipalities eligible for state and federal funding and allows all units of local government to work together in a coordinated fashion.

“We think it's very important to just send a clear message to our community that this is a serious public health concern,” Newman told reporters, “but that there are practical and effective steps that we can all take as individuals, families, businesses, local government and organizations that can reduce the spread of coronavirus.”

(3/12 2:30 p.m.) Warren Wilson College will suspend in-person classes starting tomorrow.  All classes will go online or be held through other methods starting Tuesday until April 10th at the earliest.  The campus will remain open, though the Bryson and Devries gyms will close and all school and campus events through April 10th will either be canceled or postponed.

(3/12 1 p.m.) Macon County Health Department has announced that supplies at the department such as  masks and other personal protective equipment are limited to  health workers that are responding to COVID-19 and for other communicable disease response. They are not able to provide masks and other personal protective equipment to the general public currently. 

(3/12 12:30 p.m.)  Asheville's Connect Beyond Festival is the first major event in the city to be axed due to COVID-19.  Other events are being canceled or postponed too, including tonight's public meeting on the U.S. Forest Service's Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan that was to be held at the North Carolina Arboretum.

Southwestern Community College has canceled a job fair scheduled for March 17th on its campus.  UNC Asheville announced Wednesday it was canceling or postponing all events with visting speakers and any gathering with more than 50 people for the time being.  No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Western North Carolina, though the statewide count went up to 12 Wendesday morning.  The newest cases are in Forsyth and Johnston Counties, following earlier confirmed cases in Wake and Chatham Counties.

Buncombe County commissioners hold their next meeting March 17th, during which commissioners could declare a state of emergency in the county.  The draft resolution added to the agenda does not offer any details on actions the emergency declaration would allow.  

(3/12 6:15 a.m.)  UNC Asheville will also extend its spring break by one week until March 23rd.  It is then moving all classes online, and is asking students not to return to campus once spring break ends.  Students are urged to take their classes remotely from the location of their choice.  This setup will continue until at least April 6th.

The UNC system is prohibiting all gatherings of more than 100 people, and UNC Asheville is taking that a step further by canceling all events of 50 or more people.  Visiting speaker events are also canceled or will be postponed.  

(3/11/20 6 p.m.)  Western Carolina University is among the schools in alignment with a UNC system decision to move all students online and out of the classroom.   Chancellor Kelli Brown sent out a notice Wednesday evening stating WCU is extending its official spring break by an additional week until Monday, March 23. 

Brown notes that the additional week will help enable faculty members to take the steps necessary to make the transition from in-person classes to delivery of their course materials online or via other distance methods that do not require face-to-face classes. Alternative forms of course delivery will begin on March 23 and will continue as long as the UNC System deems necessary. 

However, the university will remain open. WCU will continue to provide services to students who need to remain on campus and operate the business functions of the university.  All university-sponsored travel outside the state of North Carolina has also been suspended and in-state travel to gatherings of 100 or more people. This applies to faculty, staff and students.  Here is the complete list of guidelines from the UNC System and WCU coronavirus updates website.

(3/11/20 11:30 a.m.) - Both Buncombe and Henderson County schools will suspend all out of state travel until further notice following Tuesday’s declaration of a state of emergency in North Carolina due to the Coronavirus.  The move applies to all school-sponsored student and employee out of state travel.  

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper Tuesday afternoon declared a state of emergency after the number of presumptive & confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew to seven in NC.  He was joined by North Carolina's chief medical officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson at a press conference later Tuesday at AB Tech in Asheville.  Tilson told reporters after a meeting with local health officials there are no confirmed cases at this point in Western North Carolina.  Six of the seven cases are in Wake County, with the other in Chatham County.  Tilson also said the state is not recommending that schools close yet, but that contingency plans for tele-learning should be explored.  Tilson noted that broadband access, a lack of which plagues many parts of rural Western North Carolina, could play a factor in determining school closures.

Tuesday afternoon, Advent Health became the latest health system to increase screening of all people who enter its facilities for Coronavirus, including at its hospital in Hendersonville.   Mission Health put similar screening measures in place earlier this month.  Visitor restrictions were already in place at Mission due to the flu season.  

Organizers of the Connect Beyond Festival, which takes April 3rd through the 5th in Asheville, say it is still scheduled to take place.  But they add they will be assessing the situation on a daily basis, saying in a press release that the safety of guests and festival participants is their number one priority.  Plans are already in place to have hand-sanitizing stations at all events at Connect Beyond.