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

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Major Local Announcements

Check out the latest COVID-19 stats for NC from the Department of Health and Human Services here. As of Wednesday afternoon, 17,349 cases and 313 deaths have been reported in Buncombe County. See more Buncombe County-specific info, including waitlist numbers and vaccines distributed, here

On Weds. Apr. 28, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that starting Fri., Apr. 30, North Carolinians will be allowed to assemble in larger groups and gather outdoors without having to wear a mask. Mass gathering capacities have increased from 50 to 100 people indoors + from 100 to 200 outdoors. 

Gov. Roy Cooper plans to lift the majority of COVID-19 restrictions after June 1, including capacity limits at indoor restaurants, bars, and concert venues, along with how many people can attend indoor + outdoor gatherings. While the mask mandate will remain in place, Cooper says that could change if two-thirds of adults get vaccinated.

The CDC has updated its guidelines for those fully vaccinated (2 weeks after final dose). Check out those changes + recommendations here. 😷

 

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)  

Community Resources

Hope4NCa free, confidential crisis center, is now available for residents affected by the COVID-19 crisis in WNC. The 24-7 helpline offers referrals to local resources and services, as well as short-term counseling + educational assistance. Call or text ‘hope’ to 1-855-587-3463 to reach the hotline. ☎️

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)

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)

○ 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)

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)

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.

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. 💻 

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)

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.

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)

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)

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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