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Coronavirus: The latest local updates, cancellations, resources, + more

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Major Local Announcements

○ Find the most updated county COVID-19 rules + regulations here. Currently, Buncombe County is under a modified Stay at Home order until Feb. 28. People should be at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and should avoid indoor spaces where people are not wearing masks, as well as gatherings between households. Countywide capacity for indoor dining is capped at 50%, and indoor mass gatherings are restricted to two people outside of a household.

 Check out the latest COVID-19 stats for NC from the Department of Health and Human Services here. As of Thursday afternoon, 14,353 cases and 271 deaths have been reported in Buncombe County. See more Buncombe County-specific info, including waitlist numbers and vaccines distributed, here.

Despite outbreaks + high infection rates, Asheville + Buncombe Police Department employees are struggling to get vaccinations due to guideline changes that have limited their access. Currently, health care workers, those 65+, and fire department employees have been given priority. The county has not yet given Asheville Police Department employees the opportunity to sign up for the vaccine. Since March, at least 12.4% of APD employees have tested positive for COVID-19. 🚓 (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

After the B.1.1.7. Variant was found in Buncombe County, the CDC now recommends folks  wear two face masks to prevent COVID-19. Double masks are reported to reduce potential exposure by 95%. 😷 (WLOS)

○  Walgreens will now be a COVID-19 vaccine spot as the Biden Administration begins shipping vaccines to retail pharmacies. Exact vaccination locations have yet to be given, but Walgreens will start administering the shots this Friday. Register for an appointment here. (WLOS)

○ COVID-19’s Three WsWearing a mask, Waiting six feet apart, and Washing your hands – have helped keep flu deaths in NC down, according to health officials. There was also a 10% increase in the number of adults who got vaccinated against flu this season. Four people have died this season, compared to 186 last season. (WLOS)

Schedule Changes

Buncombe County

  • Libraries + Parks are gradually reopening

The deadline to get a Real ID has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns and the danger of overcrowding at DMVs. The ID will eventually be required to board domestic flights. Oct. 1 was the original deadline; there’s no official word on the new date(Washington Post)

Arts

○ Local arts businesses have lost about $18.7 million in revenue since March due to COVID-19, based on a new survey from the Asheville Area Arts Council. Of the 100 businesses surveyed, many have experienced a drop in donations, and over 550 employees (70%) lost their jobs or were furloughed. (WLOS)

Education

The University of North Carolina school system enrolled more students than in any previous year, despite the effects of COVID-19. Half of the schools in the UNC system reported record-breaking enrollment, which officials note is remarkable because of the challenges associated with the pandemic. Thirteen of the 17 campuses are currently open for in-person learning, including UNC Asheville + Western Carolina University. (News & Observer)

○ In addition to safety protocols on campus, UNC Asheville has utilized grant funds to enlist Student Health Ambassadors who connect with their peers, answer questions + provide resources to help the community stay safe and healthy. Learn more.

 Buncombe County School District

Mars Hill University

 UNC Asheville

Western Carolina University 

Brevard College

Blue Ridge Community College  

A-B Tech

Outdoors

Riverside Cemetery in the Montford Area Historic District has reopened. It shut down the same time as other Asheville parks, making this the longest the cemetery has been closed in its 135-year lifespan. All visitors must adhere to social distance guidelines, and funeral attendance is limited to 50 people. (WLOS)  

Sports

The Carolina Panthers are limiting seating this season at Bank of America Stadium, and Personal Seat License (PSL) owners can maintain ownership without attending any home games. If they have already paid and don’t wish to attend, they can use payment as a credit for the 2021 season or get a full refund within 30 days. The stadium seats 75,000, but attendance could be limited to 20-25,000. (News & Observer)

Community Resources

The federal government has reopened Affordable Care Act healthcare enrollment to help people impacted by the pandemic, and a new enrollment period for health insurance will be open Feb. 15 through May 15. Need help enrolling? Pisgah Legal Services is offering free assistance to people in the 18-county mountain region. Make an appointment here or call (828) 210-3404.

Weekly COVID-19 testing is now available to people experiencing homelessness and homeless service providers in Asheville. Free tests are now available Mon. + Tues. at the Church of the Advocate (60 Church St.) on from 9-11 a.m.

Western Carolina Community Action is offering free rides to those who don’t have access to transportation to COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Henderson County. Apple Country Transportation will offer free rides to those who have vaccine appointments. If you are a Hendersonville County resident 65+, call (828) 698-8571 to arrange transportation. 🚐 (WLOS)

○ 36% of those at Buncombe Emergency Medical Services have been vaccinated or have signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 47% of the staff at Asheville Fire Department do not plan to get the vaccine. Since March, 55 firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19. 💉 (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Less than an hour after the COVID-19 vaccine waitlist went live, 10,000 individuals in Buncombe County had already signed up. The waitlist simplifies the appointment process as batches of the vaccine become available. If 65+, call (828) 250-5000 or sign up here. (WLOS)

Asheville will soon welcome a new PPE (personal protective equipment) manufacturing center as the result of a new partnership between HCA Healthcare and A Plus International, Inc. The center will make and distribute masks to 1,600+ hospitals and healthcare sites throughout the US. It should be up and running early this year. (WLOS)

The NC Department of Transportation will provide $2.5 million in Coronavirus Relief Funding to local transit agencies to help people get to vaccination sites throughout the state. All counties will receive funds. (News & Observer)

Consumer advocacy organization US PIRG has written Congress to request more pandemic-related financial assistance for small businesses, increased testing tools + more PPE. The letter includes signatures from almost 50 business owners in the WNC area. Read the letter here. ✉️ (WLOS)

○ FEMA will give NC $103 million to cover costs of vaccine administration, allowing the state to repay 100% of costs incurred over 90 days. Funds will go to reimburse costs of equipment + supplies for vaccine handling and distribution, personal protective equipment (PPE), adding medical and support staff, and more. (WLOS)

The CDC reports that NC’s rank for vaccine rollout + delivery has soared. The state has gone from having one of the lowest to one of the highest ratings in the US for vaccine delivery – moving us from 40th to 12th. Healthcare officials cite shifting strategy to prioritize speed, through scheduling large-scale vaccination events and encouraging providers to deliver doses as quickly as possible, as a reason for the change. (News & Observer)

Buncombe County has realigned with state recommendations to cap restaurant capacity at 50% (from 30% previously). Officials say the decision was made after seeing key metrics show significant reduction in the community spread of COVID-19 in Buncombe County.

○ The town of Black Mountain plans to realign with statewide restrictions on restaurant capacity + gatherings, meaning their indoor dining capacity will return to 50% capacity. Buncombe County’s current order reduces restaurant capacity to 30%. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Local businesses + indoor venues could face fines of more than $500 if not enforcing crowd size limits. According to new guidelines, the first offense would result in a written warning or $50 civil fine, the second offense would result in a  $100 fine + the third offence would be fined  $500. 💰 (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Since March, 13% of Asheville City firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19. By Dec. 2, the positive case count had fallen to zero with all 35 previously infected firefighters recovered. Firefighters are at high risk due to the nature of their work + having to work in groups of at least four. 🚒 (Asheville Citizen-Times)

DYK there’s an app to help with COVID tracking? SlowCOVIDNC is free and available for download on your smartphone. The anonymous tracking app uses Bluetooth technology and informs users if they’ve been in close proximity to another person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and shared their positive test result.

○ Rural areas of North Carolina are seeing the latest COVID-19 spikes as we enter the winter months. The spikes are causing concern as rural communities could become overwhelmed with under-resourced hospitals with fewer resources + space for patient intake. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

This year’s agricultural season has been more difficult for migrant farmworkers, who have struggled to find childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. While parents could lose wages or employment opportunities if they bring children to work, children could also be at risk for exposure to pesticides. Children who join the workforce early could also lose educational opportunities. (NC Health News)

To promote social distancing + limit the spread of the coronavirus, North Carolinians who use food stamps can now purchase groceries online using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at three retailers: Walmart, Amazon + Carlie C’s. In May, North Carolina was one of the first ten states to allow online purchases using EBT. This will remain in place permanently beyond the pandemic. 💻

Gov. Roy Cooper has announced The Job Retention Grant Program, a new grant program to help employers keep their workers on the payroll during the pandemic. Applicants may receive as much as 125% of two months of their 2019 average monthly payroll costs, to a maximum of $250,000. The grants are funded by $15 million in federal money, and use was appropriated by the state legislature. Find details + application instructions here. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

The ABCCM is asking for immediate help because the pandemic has doubled the need for food + assistance in Buncombe County, but volunteers have dropped by 70%. They’re looking for volunteers and donations to serve in or support their food kitchen and distribution, transitional housing, medical ministry + more. Sign up or donate here

Want to help feed those affected by COVID-19? Feeding the Carolinas has created a list of all food banks across NC + all the other ways you can help. 

Brother Wolf, along with The Humane Society of the United States and The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, are encouraging folks with pets to create a plan for how to ensure their pet is cared for should they become sick or hospitalized. 

Service industry professionals needing extra assistance due to COVID-19 can check out USBG National Charity Foundation.

○ United Way has created a list of food pantries, shelters + services offered in Buncombe County during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dial 2-1-1 from your phone 24/7 days a week to be directed to real-time health and human service resources closest to you in the community. You can donate to United Way here

Health Care Resources

How are local COVID-19 long-haulers dealing with lingering effects of the illness months after their diagnoses? About one-third of people who get COVID experience long-term effects including changed sense of taste and smell, extreme fatigue, sleeplessness, neurological issues + more. Asheville physician Dr. Steven Hauser says that treatments currently focus on supportive care rather than cure, and physical therapist Katherine Taylor notes that PT has helped many of her long-haulers with issues like weakness + fatigue. (Mountain Xpress)

This week, much of NC’s dissemination of COVID-19 vaccines is moving from local hospitals to mass vaccination sites, including events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Bank of America Stadium. Many appointments at local hospitals + health centers have been cancelled as officials have learned they won’t receive any vaccine shipments. The state received 120,000 doses total this week. Local leaders are trying to get more information on future schedule changes. (News & Observer)

Individuals 65 and older are now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination in Henderson County. All Henderson County vaccine providers — the Health Department, Pardee UNC Health Care, Blue Ridge Health, and AdventHealth Hendersonville – can offer vaccinations to residents in this age range. Get more info on vaccinations in Henderson Co. here. (Hendersonville.com)

All Mission Hospital locations have moved visitor restrictions to Level 2. Visitors will now be limited to one designated adult patient advocate per day. COVID-19 patients + those awaiting a COVID-19 test result will not be allowed any visitors. (WLOS)

 

Because they work the front lines and must keep distance from their own families, healthcare workers have really been feeling the stress of the pandemic. With high rates of burnout + fatigue, national nonprofit Heal The Healers Now is offering free transcendental meditation training for healthcare workers. Get more info here. 🧘

Wanna know when COVID vaccine appointments are available in Buncombe County? Text BCALERT to 888-777 to receive emergency text alerts on your smartphone. You can also visit this page to sign up for vaccine notifications.

Later this week, Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) will open vaccine scheduling for healthcare workers + folks 65 and older. If you need a second dose of the vaccine, someone from BCHHA will contact you directly. Currently, there are no available appointments. Get additional info here.

To help out with the enormous task of vaccinating thousands of people, pharmacy students with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy have been helping administer COVID-19 vaccines in Buncombe County. The students, who attend school at the UNC Asheville satellite campus, offer critical, volunteer staffing on Fridays at the A-B Tech vaccination site in exchange for first-hand medical experience. (WLOS) 

A new first-come, first-served mobile COVID-19 testing site has opened to the public in the River Arts District in the parking lot of Mountain Housing Opportunities (401 Depot St.). In addition to offering tests to anyone regardless of their symptoms or known exposure to coronavirus, walk-ups are welcome because no appointments are needed. The nasal swab tests are offered Mon, Wed, and Fri. from 1-5 p.m. and offer results in 24-36 hours. Get more info here. (WLOS)

Death totals surpassed births recorded for the first time ever in Buncombe County in 2020. The death-to-birth rate has always led with births until this year as we see the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 2020, official numbers were 4,062 deaths + 4,048 births. (WLOS)

The Charles George VA Medical Center has begun vaccinating staff, residents + area veterans, prioritizing vets 75+. Veterans who are also patients can schedule available appointments and drive up for their shots at vaccination tents set up outside the facility. Sign up for updates on vaccine availability here.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that vaccine providers in NC can vaccinate anyone 65 and up. The decision was based on updated recommendations from the CDC. NC educators, like other frontline essential workers, must now wait until after folks ages 65-74 get vaccinated before they can receive theirs. Buncombe County Health and Human Services continues to offer vaccinations to those 75+ until Feb. 1. Get additional info on COVID vaccination in the county here. 

○ Henderson County has moved into Phase 1B of vaccine distribution (for people 75 and older). Demand for appointments so far has overwhelmed the county’s call center, and county officials, unsure of how many vaccines they’ll receive next week, are stressing patience when people call in. This week, Henderson County received 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Contact the call center at (828) 585-4700

The NC Department of Public Safety still hasn’t obtained crucial details on the vaccination distribution for inmates + correctional officers ages 75 + older. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 36 people have died + over 7,700 people have been infected in NC State Prisons. Currently, there is not a firm schedule for distribution of the vaccine, nor do state officials know which vaccine they will be distributing. (Carolina Public Press)

Many long-term care staff in NC are choosing not to take the coronavirus vaccine, despite its accelerated spread among nursing homes. Health officials say the decisions are affected by staffing shortages, lack of familiarity with technological systems in the state, and the logistical issues involving 100 counties and dozens of hospitals. (AP News) 

COVID-19 testing and treatment is covered for people without insurance. Healthcare providers can file claims + receive reimbursements from the US Department of Health and Human Services. Covered services include specimen collection, diagnostic + antibody testing, clinic visits, emergency rooms + offices, long-term acute care, and vaccine administration fees

The Department of Health and Human Services has released an interactive tool to track ICU capacity at hospitals around the US. Information updates are based on weekly data provided to the department. Search by city or zip code to see hospitals reporting near you. (The New York Times)

○ Mission Hospital has imposed new visitor restrictions due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Level 3 restrictions limit visitors to patients only in most cases. Pediatric patients are allowed one adult visitor, and expecting mothers are allowed one significant partner + one doula. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Local company Thermo Fisher Scientific is producing freezers needed for the distribution process of the COVID-19 vaccine. The demand for the ultra-cold freezers is international as countries begin to roll out Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be kept at minus 70º C, to high-risk individuals. (Yahoo! News)

The new COVID-19 County Alert System shows community spread in all 100 NC counties, ranking it from red (critical) to orange (substantial) to yellow (significant). The map will be updated monthly based on case rate, percent positive tests + hospital impact in each county.

Do you still need to wear a mask if you’ve already had coronavirus? Chief Medical Officer at UNC Pardee Hospital Dr. David Ellis says yes. He notes that the medical establishment doesn’t fully understand the virus and that there have been a few documented cases of COVID-19 reinfection. Ellis stresses that masks not only protect the wearer, but the folks around them. (WLOS)17

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