AVL Guides    Coronavirus, News

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

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Major Local Announcements

NC’s Department of Health and Human Services reported a total of 126,532 cases of coronavirus in North Carolina as of Monday afternoon. 1,715 cases and 46 deaths have been reported in Buncombe County. Check stats for other counties, total tests, and more in NC here

Confirmed positive COVID cases at Mission Hospitals set another record in the past week, rising to 49. Cases in Buncombe County residents rose by almost 250. The rate of positive tests rose to 5% in July, up from 2-3% in June. Officials are cautioning everyone to behave as if they could be exposed to COVID-19 every time they go out in public or see community members. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

While Buncombe County COVID-19 cases are on the rise, new cases overall in NC dropped for the fourth day in a row. Hospitalizations have also dropped slightly. However, as of yesterday, 1.8 million NC residents have been tested for coronavirus, and 7% of tests were positive. According to the WHO, a positive rate of less than 5% means an outbreak is under control. (News & Observer)   

Residents of Hendersonville with outstanding utility bill balances may be able to get assistance through a utility payment program. The expiration of Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 142 which prohibited late payment fees + utility disconnections — ended July 29, prompting Hendersonville Water & Sewer to remind delinquent customers to contact Customer Service and set up a payment plan. Participants must sign up for the plan by Sun., Sept. 27. (Mountain Xpress)

Western Carolina University students are starting to move in for the fall semester – a little earlier than usual. The university offered early move-in to students as a way to help with social distancing efforts. Students living in campus housing as well as off-campus will also receive personal protective equipment, including masks + sanitizer. (WLOS)

○ Latinx residents of NC are still being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. While they make up 14% of the state’s population, they account for 55% of cases. La Noticia analyzed three databases to identify the state’s most vulnerable Latinx communities, identifying 30 counties hit hardest – including Burke + McDowell in WNC. Many counties also have a high Social Vulnerability Index. (BPR News)

Staff with the United Way of Asheville + Buncombe County’s 211 say their call volume has soared since the pandemic began. Since mid-March, 211 has received 85,000 calls. They are able to answer general COVID-19 questions and can also offer information on issues like rent assistance + food. To collect data from North Carolinians and better understand their pandemic-related needs, The United Way is encouraging folks to take part in their new online survey. (WLOS)

The pandemic has caused North Carolina liquor sales to hit a new record of almost $1.37 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s a growth of almost 12%. Officials say growth began in March when Gov. Roy Cooper closed down bars + restaurants, and it has continued as these nonessential businesses are still closed or operating at reduced capacity. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

According to a recent WalletHub study examining each state’s pandemic-related policieslike travel restrictions, mask mandates, and remote work requirements North Carolina ranks 45 out of 51 when it comes to the least restrictive COVID policies – meaning that our state’s policies are more restrictive than 44 other states. See the entire study here. (WLOS)

Schedule Changes

Mars Hill University will begin their fall semester remotely. The semester starts Aug. 17 and will move to in-person instruction Sept. 8. Room-and-board costs will be reduced on a prorated basis because the semester is beginning online. Mars Hill + and other South Atlantic Conference schools announced last week a delay of the fall sports seasons until Sept. 28.

 The NC State Fairoriginally slated for October 18-25 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh — will not be held, due to coronavirus-related concerns. Last year, the fair saw 938,000+ visitors over 11 days and in 2017 the event had more than a million people in attendance. (WLOS)

The Blue Ridge Parkway has reopened some campgrounds that were closed due to COVID-19. Many facilities + visitor centers will remain closed, but starting tomorrow, four campgrounds will reopen. Two of them are on the Virgina side of the Parkway + two are on the NC side. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

NC Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced that jury trials will be delayed for at least two more months + face coverings are required in all common areas of NC court facilities. Courts in five counties have had to close due to known exposures + several court employees have contracted COVID-19 since more in-person court proceedings resumed in June. Judicial + law enforcement leaders in each county are expected to come up with a jury trial resumption plan by Sept. 1. (WLOS)

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court blocked a judge’s ruling that allowed dozens of the state’s bowling alleys to reopen. Bowling alleys must shut down again for now in order to comply with Gov. Cooper’s Phase 2 directive, which prohibits them from opening. (WLOS)

Wicked Weed Brewing has temporarily shut down its downtown location after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The employee last worked July 7 and the brewery’s flagship spot  is performing contact tracing. This comes one day after Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium reopened, where an employee that tested positive was cleared to return to work. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

For the first time since it launched in 2007, The Big Crafty is going virtual this year. Dubbed “Party in the Stories,” it will feature works from 175 independent artists. Organizers will hold giveaways + special promotions. The event will begin at 10 a.m. July 11 and run through 9 p.m. July 12. The Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands is also going online this year, and will take place July 16-19. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The 2020 Mountain State Fair at the WNC Ag Center (761 Boylston Hwy.) is cancelled due to COVID-19. The fair was originally set to run from Sept. 11-20. Last year, the fair was linked to at least 141 cases of Legionnaires disease, including four deaths. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The City of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department announced Fri. that it will keep all city pools + Splasheville closed for the remainder of the summer due to ongoing concerns about the pandemic. Splasheville, located in Pack Square Park, and the city’s three pools located at Malvern Hills Park, Walton Street Park + Recreation Park – will remain closed until public health officials deem reopening safe.

The Waynesville Recreation Center pool reopened on Mon. after closing in March. Before entering, guests will have to fill out a brief questionnaire + have their temperature taken. Outdoor equipment + bags are not allowed and safety gear like goggles will be inspected and sanitized by lifeguards. Social distancing will also be enforced. (WLOS)

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino 

  • Gradual reopening

Buncombe County

  • Libraries + Parks are gradually reopening.

Local events (WLOS)

Biltmore

  • Grounds have reopened
  • Downton Abbey: The Exhibition reopened on June 2

 Omni Grove Park

  • Reopened on June 1 after implementing new health + safety procedures as a part of the Omni Safe & Clean program

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)

Hatch This 2020 has been cancelled.

Arts

Asheville Community Theater 

  • Closed until further notice

Asheville Tattoo Arts Convention has been postponed until September 18-20 of this year.

○ The Brevard Music Center is canceling its 2020 Summer Music Festival, slated to take place May 30 – August 22.  BMC is actively contacting ticket holders with info on refunds + donations.

Grey Eagle 

  • Closed until further notice

Malaprop’s Bookstore

  • Resumed curbside pickup and are offering limited in-person shopping by appointment.

The Orange Peel

  • Closed until further notice.

  Mothlight 

  • Closed Permanently

Salvage Station

  • Closed until further notice.

○ Flat Rock Playhouse is postponing the rest of their 2020 season. The state theatre of NC had originally planned to reopen in mid-July, but will now move all of their 2020 shows to the 2021 season. Because 80% of their income come from ticket sales, they are accepting donations here.

BMCM+AC

  • Closed until further notice 

○ LEAF Festival organizers announced that they are postponing the spring festival, scheduled for May 14-17, and combining it with the fall LEAF Fest, Oct. 22-25 at Lake Eden in Black Mountain. The combined festivals will be in celebration of LEAF’s 50th anniversary.

Education

Transylvania County Schools voted for the Plan B option to return to school. Students will be split into two groups, with one attending class on Mon. + Wed. and the other group attending Tues. + Thurs. Fridays are reserved for office hours + professional development. Students can choose to attend the district’s virtual learning academy + schools can switch to virtual learning at any point. (WLOS) 

○ Haywood County schools will start virtually on Aug. 17, with the hope that kids can return to school within the month. The school board voted for Gov. Roy Cooper’s Plan B Option F, meaning teachers can come back as well as Pre-K + students who need extra help or special instruction. Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte hopes to get kids back in the classroom by Sept. 21 under Plan B at a limited capacity. (WLOS) 

Throughout the state, more parents may homeschool their children this fall. The state portal for filing new home schools opened on July 1 before a surge of parents crashed it, and homeschooling advocates + education consults report seeing more inquiries than ever before. Gov. Cooper is expected to announce plans for the school year this week. Buncombe County Schools will allow each student access to online learning, regardless of the governor’s guidelines. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Do you have a rising kindergartener through sixth grader at Asheville City Schools? They’re collecting more info through this survey about parental preferences for the fall semester, including virtual + in-person instruction, transportation, school lunch + more. 

 Buncombe County School District

  •  All K-12 schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Mars Hill University

  • All classes virtual

 UNC Asheville

  • All classes virtual. 

Western Carolina University 

  • All classes virtual. 

Brevard College

  • All classes virtual. 

Blue Ridge Community College  

  • All classes virtual

AB Tech

  • All classes virtual

Outdoors

After closing some of its most popular areas in earlier this year due to the pandemic, more recreation areas are now open in Pisgah National Forest. These include Looking Glass Falls + Picnic Area. Visitors are encouraged to adhere to the CDC’s safety guidelines, and not to climb on or around waterfalls or barriers. See the full list of openings here. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

○ The Blue Ridge Parkway reopened to drivers on May 15. Large portions have been closed due to the coronavirus, as well as seasonal mowing + road work. The southernmost 14 miles of the parkway from Milepost 454-469 reopened on May 9. Hiking is permitted on all parkway trails. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Several state parks – including Chimney Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Lake James + Mt. Mitchell – have partially reopened. Gorges State Park and Pisgah National Forest will reopen on May 13. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Despite other state lands reopening to the public, Big Bradley Fallslocated on the Green River Game Lands in Polk County  — will remain closed until further notice. According to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, eight fatalities have occurred at the falls trail since 2000, and it will remain closed because there is no safe view of the falls from the trail. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

DuPont State Recreational Forest has not reopened yet. Officials are still working on essential safety issues, like how to clean the bathrooms. The forest has been closed since Mar. 24, and officials plan to reopen it soon. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

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)  

The N.C. Arboretum reopened trail access as of May 9.

Sports

The NC High School Athletic Association will move to Phase 2 on Aug. 3. Gatherings in outside venues will still be limited to no more than 25 people, and gatherings in gyms will remain limited to 10 people. Athletes can now use balls as long as they have been properly cleaned. The NCHSAA announced earlier this month that fall sports would begin no earlier than Sept. 1. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The NCHSAA has delayed the start of fall sports until at least September 1. The first five days of the fall semester will be designated as a dead period for all sports, which officials say should allow schools to focus on the beginning of the school year. Should coronavirus cases continue to spike, fall sports could be delayed further. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

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)

 The NC High School Athletic Association announced Monday that high school sports throughout the state will return with some restrictions beginning June 15. The NCHSAA has a three phase plan for safely resuming sports and have thus far only released Phase 1. They plan to release Phases 2 and 3 in the coming weeks after consulting with state officials. All Buncombe County Schools will follow the committee’s guidelines. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

Beginning Mon., June 15, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) will lift its dead period. The dead period — a time that prohibits coaches from face-to-face contact with student athletes — has been extended three times since it began in March. To help schools reopen safely + gradually, the org has created its own phased guidelines. Each school system will be allowed to determine when to begin summer activities. (WLOS)

The 89th Asheville Open Tennis Championships, slated to take place in July, have been cancelled.

Get updated on college and professional sporting events.

Community Resources

Have you noticed more trash at your home? Waste Pro has, and they’re hiring more drivers to meet the increase. Officials say since more people are home because of the pandemic, residential trash in Buncombe County has increased 25% and it’s not stopping. Click here to learn more about Waste Pro’s available positions. (WLOS)

Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 142 expires July 31. The order, which prevents landlords + utility companies from cutting utilities off or charging late fees, was originally issued in March. Officials suggest folks reach out to the utility company to establish a payment plan, or see if their county’s Department of Social Services offer utility assistance programs. Find a list of city + county assistance resources here.  (WLOS) The NC NAACP asked a Wake County judge to bar the use of touch screen voting machines. The group argued that these machines carry a higher risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than three months ago, the group filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections + county election boards to stop the use of the machines. Twenty of NC’s 100 counties have touch screen voting machines. (WLOS)

Although national park visits have been down because of the pandemic, loosening restrictions and people getting outdoors is priming parks for a rebound. Visitors to Great Smokies National Park were down 17% in May compared to last year, and down 30% between Jan. and May. Visitor spending was up 7.7% compared to 2018. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

○ Private + charter schools in NC received millions of dollars in federal relief loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. Over 30 schools in the state (including Asheville School + Carolina Day School) received at least $1 million each. While some education advocates have been critical, the schools say COVID-19 has hit them hard, necessitating the additional funds the loans will provide. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

How do grocery stores hold customers accountable for wearing masks? Because most grocery stores don’t have specified staff to observe + enforce mask-wearing, some folks say grocery stores need bouncers. Without designated enforcement, customers turn to the police. Officials with the Asheville Police Department report receiving 48 calls for mask noncompliance since the statewide mask mandate began June 26, 18 of which were reports of disturbances or threats for not wearing masks. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Black Bear Cafe held a barbecue fundraiser for the Broyhill Children’s Home this past weekend. The pandemic has forced the children’s home to stop hosting their own fundraisers and their food pantry was dwindling, so the eatery set up a drive through for customers on Sunday. All the proceeds went toward purchasing food for the nonprofit. (WLOS)

Private schools have more freedom + autonomy than their public school counterparts, and as a result, hundreds throughout the state are planning for more aggressive reopenings. Private schools are also subject to more lawsuits, and many will require parents to sign waivers before sending their kids to school. Officials say many of their students’ parents support in-person teaching because they work and can’t be home to monitor virtual learning. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Hispanic/Latinx-identified people comprise one third of the positive cases of COVID-19 in Henderson County. Hendersonville-based non-profit True Ridge has received $100,000 from the state Department of Health and Human Services to better support Hispanic/Latinx individuals living in isolation, as well as prevention efforts + testing. (BPR News)

The Biltmore Estate has permanently eliminated 15% of its workforce because of the pandemic. Representatives for the Asheville area’s largest tourist attraction say the roles were eliminated through a mix of permanent layoff + early retirement, and that the majority of the positions were part-time. They also said impacted employees would receive severance packages. (WLOS)

Latinos now make up more than 25% of COVID-19 cases in Buncombe County, yet they only account for 6.7% of the population. Buncombe County Government will present a bilingual webinar, Let’s Talk Prevention, Perspectives, and Realities: COVID-19 and our Latinx Communities, on this disparity today from 1-2 p.m. Register in advance here

A new state program, the NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps initiative, is helping students who lost their summer jobs + internships due to COVID-19. The initiative provides virtual public service internships that match students with local governments + nonprofits who need more help. A full list of opportunities can be found on their database. (WLOS)

NC has seen a 690.73% increase in unemployment claims compared to this time last year. There were 26,861 claims the week of July 6, 2020, compared to 3,397 the week of July 8, 2019. NC has the 10th slowest job recovery in the U.S. (WalletHub)

Great Smoky Mountains Association is selling bear + elk masks. There are four different designs and each costs about $11. Proceeds will go towards park preservation, management + activities. (WLOS)  

The Racial Justice Coalition has announced its support of nine local organizations – including Artists Designing Evolution (adé PROJECT), BeLoved Asheville, Equity Over Everything + My Daddy Taught Me That – through the reallocation of $36,000 in non-restrictive Emergency Support Funding. The Asheville-based org made the move to support the Movement for Black Lives during the pandemic due to additional economic hardships affecting grassroots + community groups.  

○ Parts of Wall St. have been closed to create more space for customers to dine + shop through the city’s Shared Streets program. Some of the streets that are a part of this program include Church, College + more. (WLOS)  

Wanna know the steps local factories are taking to keep their workers safely employed? Check out this piece from Molly Gaffney-Keebler, owner of Spherion Staffing, for insight into the ways she’s working to safely fill jobs, plus info for folks currently seeking employment. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

OnTrack WNC Financial Education and Counseling is hosting online classes for adults that will address hardships families are facing during the pandemic. The classes will include info on topics like preventing home foreclosure + picking the right debt management program, as well as what resources + assistance are available to people. (WLOS)

Wanna see something truly uplifting? Check out this video from Buncombe Partnership for Children, showing what they’ve been up to since the pandemic began. This includes distributing 600 cloth face masks + 60 touchless thermometers for kids + teachers across each of the county’s 55 child care centers, plus gift cards for gas + groceries for teachers and staff.

The Rutherford County Farmers Market received a $10,000 grant from Facebook to help feed families affected by COVID-19. Funds allow low-income families who qualify for federal programs to double the amount of produce they purchase. (WLOS)  

Mandy Frazier, a Hendersonville wedding designer, has launched a line of wedding-appropriate face masks. The creations include styles for brides + grooms, as well as the bridal party and guests. The bridal masks can be ordered to match the dress or tuxedo, and the bride + groom masks come in a special keepsake box. (WLOS)

Nonprofit BeLoved Asheville is working on a solution to the housing crisis: BeLoved Asheville Village is a community of 12 tiny homes on donated church property in East Asheville. The homes cost 30% of area median income and are designed to help address past injustices that have been amplified by the pandemic, including poverty + racial inequality. The org is working with Warren Wilson College and the Furniture Society of North America to supply the homes with handcrafted dishes + furniture. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

The Carolina Climbers Coalition recently launched the Carolina Climbing Conservation Corp, or C4, a new crew of people who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. The crew is working to build + maintain trails for the coalition, a nonprofit that helps preserve and enhance opportunities for rock climbing in NC + SC. Trail work has been funded by donations. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Businesses in Waynesville are beginning to recover from the state’s shut down. Frog Level Brewing, the town’s first brewery, says that they’re beginning to get back on track financially since the state’s Phase 2 re-opening, but acknowledges it will likely be until fall that they are able to break even. In accordance with Phase 2 guidelines, they’re operating at 50 percent capacity + keeping tables six feet apart. (WLOS)

Mills River dairy farmer Mike Corn donated over 19,000 pounds of raw milk to the MANNA Food Bank – a full day’s worth of milk production. MANNA has seen a 65% increase in demand of individuals seeking emergency food help since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Milkco, a subsidiary of Ingles, will process, package + prepare the donation in three large shipments for MANNA 

On May 30, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order No. 142, which extended the prohibition of utility shut-offs. It also implements a moratorium on evictions and requires landlords to give tenants a minimum of six months to pay outstanding rent. Cooper signed the order in an effort to prevent homelessness + ensure access to essential utilities. (WLOS)

Shopping looks different in a pandemic. Area malls + stores have implemented new methods, including online and/or remote appointments that allow folks to shop in advance. Some stores have plexiglass dividers + social distancing markers, and others have closed their fitting rooms. Those with open fitting rooms have a limited number of rooms so employees can clean them between every use. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The Transylvania Economic Alliance has created an emergency bridge loan program with $150,000 to assist small businesses in Transylvania County as they move towards re-opening. Bizzes can apply for a maximum amount of $10,000 and a minimum $2,500. Small businesses that haven’t been able to get access to federal loans can apply. (WLOS)

There’s a new source of help for families impacted by school closings due to COVID-19. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program provides additional food benefits to NC families whose children have access to free + reduced school lunch. Families will receive roughly $370 in benefits on an EBT card per child. Funds can be used to buy food at EBT authorized retailers, including most major grocery stores. (WLOS)

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

Transylvania County’s Sharing House Ministry is getting a $1500 donation from Brevard High School‘s senior class, which decided to donate the funds, originally slated for their senior class field trip. The ministry has seen a 30% increase in demand for food, clothing + other financial assistance. The money will provide roughly three weeks’ worth of free produce to 500 people. (WLOS)

Even though the pandemic has shuttered Asheville’s restaurants, there are still new eateries on the horizon. AVLtoday’s very own Ali McGhee spoke with industry veterans like Meherwan Irani + Jacob Sessoms on their views regarding the industry’s prospects for recovery, as well as presents a roundup of new spots to be on the lookout for. (AVL Watchdog

County commissioners voted Tuesday night to allow up to 50 people to attend funerals in Buncombe County, effective immediately. The vote to relax restrictions was in response to the state’s new Phase I order, which goes into effect Fri., May 8. (WLOS)

Area first responders are participating in the First Responder Reading Challenge. Launched by Macon County emergency workers, the challenge consists of videos of emergency workers reading children’s books for restless kids at home, who then challenge other workers to make additional videos using the hashtag #firstresponderreadingchallenge. (WLOS)

Specialty farms have been hit hard by coronavirus shutdowns. Ridgefield Farm, which supplies Brasstown Beef, has seen demand for steaks from clients — mostly top-level steakhouses and restaurantsdrop by 70% compared to pre-COVID sales. They’ve opened sales online to help make up for the lost revenue, but are mostly selling ground beef. Sunburst Trout Farms’ sales have dropped to 75% below what’s usual for springtime. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Coronavirus has caused the number of crimes + arrests to go down, and the number of inmate releases to go up. Low-level, non-violent crimes no longer result in arrest but instead a citation to appear in court, and the daily inmate population has dropped, with inmates awaiting trial who couldn’t afford to post bail seeing the biggest reduction. Jury trials + traffic court have been suspended through June 1. (AVL Watchdog

A relief package that will send money to schools, hospitals, local governments + researchers was approved by the NC General Assembly on Saturday.  will allow $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 funds to be distributed to universities, rural + teaching hospitals. The money will also support the purchase of personal protective equipment, small businesses and the expansion of testing. (WLOS)

○ WNC-based manufacturers, including Industrial Opportunities Inc. (in Andrews) are now making face masks. As of last week, they had made over 50,000 masks. Normally, they manufacture military + medical products and also work with disabled + disadvantaged adults. Foothills Industries in Marion is also making face shields in collaboration with local company Kitsbow + Dogwood Health Trust. (BPR)  

Asheville Strong published a new digital cookbook to raise funds for restaurant worker relief. Over 35 recipes from area chefs are included in the collection, titled Asheville at Home: Iconic Recipes From Your Favorite Local Restaurants. It’s available for pre-order ($19.95) now and is delivered via .pdf. Net proceeds will go to NC Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Restaurant Workers Relief Fund

On Thurs., April 30, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the creation of a Schools Reopening Task Force (SRTF). Designed to address pandemic-related education challenges, part of the task force’s goal is to get as many students + teachers back into state school buildings as safely possible this fall, as well as to review and recommend ways to improve remote learning. (WLOS

The City of Asheville plans to request funding from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to help with costs related to the pandemic. The plan was unanimously approved in a special session this week. City Manager Debra Campbell will now begin the application process. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The North Carolina Division of Employment Security updated its online system on Friday to allow self-employed workers to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You cannot reapply if your application is still pending, and you must have been formally denied if you applied before April 24. Payments should go out 14 days after you successfully apply. Apply here. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

○ Two emergency funds in Buncombe County and WNC have raised over $2 million to help people during COVID-19. The One Buncombe Fund has raised over $1 million in donations, resulting in 339 jobs being retained, 38 loans processed + 665 people receiving assistance. The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) has raised $1.1 million and distributed grants totaling $951,900, half of which address issues of hunger + food insecurity.

Independent restaurants across the country have taken a huge hit as a result of the pandemic. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Sally Kestin of AVL Watchdog spoke with multiple James Beard Award–nominated chef Katie Button of Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels on the unique struggles affecting the industry and what recovery entails. Read it here. (AVL Watchdog)

○  A new web app matches needs with resources during the pandemic. The COVID Mobilize app — created by Asheville entrepreneurs Emily Breedlove of Breedlove & Co., Matthew Nederlanden of Security Camera Warehouse, and Nathan Silsbee of Nomadic Software — helps area bizzes find + provide direct support to local nonprofits, healthcare providers + governments.        

Local high school senior Jo Gratz has created a project to make 10,000 masks for healthcare workers locally + all over the country. Want to support? You can donate funds for fabric or make your own (there’s a tutorial on the website) to contribute to the total – so far, over 4,000 have been made and tracked as part of the project. Jo is delivering masks locally to the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County for distribution.

Calls to domestic violence hotlines are on the rise as people spend more time at home. WNC-based agencies are offering support and have increased outreach and help, including funding auxiliary shelters, providing help for Spanish-speaking communities and undocumented individuals, offering free counseling + more. (BPR)  

The WNC Nature Center is one of the local businesses that have suffered financially due to the pandemic. Revenue due to lost ticket sales at the center is down 90% since they closed their doors Mar. 13. Memberships to the Friends of the WNC Nature Center and gift shop sales are also down. Wanna help? Find info on how to support them here.

The Open Door, a homeless shelter in Waynesville, has closed their doors because of the pandemic. After a recent town vote, they set up portable bathroom + hand washing facilities near The Open Door and in the First United Methodist Church’s parking lot to provide homeless folks in the community with bathroom access. Once The Open Door and town restrooms reopen, officials say they will remove the portable facilities. (WLOS)

The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office recently bought 1,600 face masks from nonprofit Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. Sheriff Quentin Miller says the masks will be particularly helpful for Buncombe County Detention Facility employees + first responders. Want to order some yourself? Email Eagle Market Streets Development Corp here

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners have approved an additional $700,000+ in funding. $500,000 will go to general public needs + $232,800 will go to buying a new ambulance truck. This comes after two of the county’s trucks broke down. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The Asheville Survival Program is working to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. They provide materials like hand sanitizer, food + more, and are asking for financial donations and donations of material goods. Donate here + find a list of donation bin locations. (theurbannews.com

○ If you’re a government employee or first responder, Autobell Car Wash will disinfect the interior of your car for free. You can get it as a stand-alone service or an addition to your car wash. The disinfectant is EPA-registered + hospital-grade, and all you have to do is bring in a government-issued ID and the service is free of charge. There are six Autobell locations in the Asheville area. (WLOS)

Life changes, including losing health insurance through your job, can qualify consumers for Special Enrollments Periods through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace — but the time to report that change + sign up is only 60 days. Pisgah Legal Services is offering free assistance to help area folks review their options +  sign up for health insurance. Appointments can be made online or via phone at (828) 210-3404.

Are you a small biz or entrepreneur with questions about the CARES Act, regional support, local nonprofits helping out + more? NAI Beverly-Hanks created a comprehensive list of COVID-19 business support resources to help you out. (Capital at Play) 

The Hendersonville Family YMCA may be closed, but they are still working to help the community by giving out free meals to kids 18 and younger + hosting mobile markets. They are also providing homeschool resources like educational activities, active play ideas, character development exercises + STEAM projects. Bonus: Find at-home workouts on their website, or tune into live workouts via Facebook.

Three cheers for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, which has been stepping up + helping out during the pandemic. They donated their PPE, which are used by their home repair staff, to Mission Hospital. They also deployed two ReStore truck drivers to help MANNA FoodBank with food distribution operations. 

Asheville web design + marketing agency Status Forward has launched Supply Connector, a new online directory that lets manufacturers, suppliers + essential providers list their needs and production capabilities in order to help COVID-19 relief efforts in the supply chain. Find more info here.

A new charity organization called RVs4MDs is helping healthcare workers + their loved ones during the pandemic. Anyone working on the frontlines COVID-19 can be lent an RV to help them self-isolate from their family. 1400 volunteers have been recruited, and over 800 matches have been made. Learn more about the group here.  

Southern Vision Alliance’s Frontlines Leaders Fund are offering grants of up to $500 to neighborhood-based + local organizing efforts in response to COVID-19. Priority is given to efforts by LGBTQ people, students, disabled people, people of color, rural communities, migrants + families. Apply here 

Pandemic of Love’s Asheville Chapter is helping connect those in need with those who want to help during this time. Anyone interested can fill out either the Request Aid Form or the Commit To Help Form. Volunteers then create matches that connect people to give quickly, discreetly + directly. Have questions or want to volunteer? Email the local chapter here. 

The Arc of Buncombe County received $18,000 from Walnut Cove Members Association through their Crisis Intervention Grant Program. Funds will help families that are homeless + in crisis as well as go to groups like MANNA FoodBank, Homeward Bound and Haywood Street Ministry

The state is looking for more medical volunteers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Openings are available for clinical volunteers (physicians, nurses, etc.), clinical support (pharmacy, imaging, respiratory care) + non-clinical support (facility maintenance, safety+ administration). Volunteers will be deployed as close to home as possible with pay of $15/hour. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

The ASPCA is distributing free pet food to Buncombe County residents impacted by the pandemic. This will be a drive-through event by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call the ASPCA hotline (800) 738-9437 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. There are no same-day appointments.

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. 

Asheville City Schools bus drivers + nutrition employees are delivering meals to children at four main distribution sites: Pisgah View Apartments, Hillcrest Apartments, Klondyk Apartments + Arthur Edington Center. There will also be a drive-through distribution site at Isaac Dickson Elementary on Hill Street in the Montford community. The packaged meals include a hot lunch + the next day’s breakfast. (WLOS)

The YWCA of Asheville and WNC is partnering with MANNA FoodBank to provide meals for people in need, and they’re looking for healthy volunteers who are not in at-risk populations today and on Mar. 26 to help pack food. Prospective volunteers should fill out this form or email Amanda Durst. You can also donate to the YWCA’s relief fund. 🥫

○ The Asheville Citizen-Times has lifted their paywalls for important COVID-19 coverage. 

○  AVL Ride is making its drivers available to run errands or do shopping, and services are available to the community at a discounted rate. Click here for details on pricing and more. 

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.

Asheville Water Resources will suspend all water disconnections due to non-payment of City of Asheville combined utility bills. For more info, call (828) 251-1122.

Duke Energy is suspending disconnects for nonpayment for home + business accounts.

The Asheville Police Department is amending their patrol response procedures to protect officers, personnel + residents from potential coronavirus infection. Effective immediately, all non-emergency calls (including lost property, fraud, and stolen property of less than $1,000 in value) will be handled by an officer via telephone. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Governor Roy Cooper announced that parents who need food help for children ages 18 and younger can text FOODNC to 877-877 to locate nearby free meal sites. Parents enter their address + receive the location + serving times for nearby pick-up free meal sites. The service is also available in Spanish; text “COMIDA” to 877-877. (FoxCarolina 

○ 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

A group of local volunteers led by software engineer Geert Bevin with the help of 3D printers, Day One Disaster Relief, and UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio – are making and donating protective face shields to healthcare providers in Asheville + beyond to help protect against the spread of COVID-19. See the full story here.

Health Care Resources

○ McDowell County health officials are monitoring two separate outbreaks at Deer Park Health & Rehab + Early Childhood Enrichment Center. A total of 22 residents + 16 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 there as of July 28. Two residents + one staff member were hospitalized, and three residents have died. Two staff members + three children tested positive at the childhood enrichment center as of July 28. (WLOS)

A COVID-19 cluster has been identified at a revival held at the Cashiers Church of God (405 NC-107, Cashiers) on July 12-14. Eight people who attended the revival tested positive for COVID-19. The individuals are all isolating + contact tracing is ongoing. (WLOS) 

○ A day after Buncombe County announced that it will reduce COVID-19 testing capacity for community sites, officials say they plan to restart the process next month with an updated model. County Interim Public Health Director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore says pausing community testing sites will streamline + improve the testing process. While testing is still available at places like urgent care clinics + private medical practices, community site testing is geared to the uninsured. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

○ Since the pandemic began, eight state prisoners with COVID-19 have died. Both victims were inmates at Albemarle Correctional Institution in Stanly County (about three hours east of Buncombe, near Charlotte) and passed away from preexisting conditions complicated by the coronavirus. The Division of Prisons is currently working to test every inmate in the state’s 50+ prisons. (WLOS)

Wal-Mart has announced that face masks will be required in all of its stores starting Mon. Health ambassadors will be posted at store entrances to remind shoppers of the requirement. Masks will also be required at Sam’s Club

Mission Health reported record highs of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the third day in a row. As of yesterday, there were 36 patients hospitalized in the Mission health system, with 34 of them at Mission Hospital. Mission executives noted that the system is nowhere near capacity, but also do not want to create a false sense of security by saying that. (Asheville Citizen-Times)  

○ NC nursing home residents may be able to have visitors outside soon. State health officials are drafting a provision that would allow outdoor visitation as early as today. An executive order in March created to curb the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities prohibited any visitors. Visitors will be screened for symptoms, must wear a mask and use hand sanitizer, and must stay in a designated area at a distance. (News & Observer)

Does humidity have a connection to COVID-19? Asheville-based North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, along with researchers from Appalachian State, found a statistically significant link between specific humidity and COVID-19 cases, with more cases in areas with low specific humidity. The study looked at three US cities – Albany, NY, New Orleans, LA + Atlanta, GA. The authors plan to repeat the analysis later this year with more geographic areas.  

Ten nursing home deaths in Buncombe County have been reclassified as being caused by COVID-19. This is a reversal from a decision made earlier this month where officials thought the deaths were misclassified when attributed to the coronavirus. The NCDHHS determined the deaths met the case definition of COVID-19 deaths, which include deaths in someone who tested positive, died without fully recovering, and who had no other identified alternative cause of death. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

Asheville + WNC’s first health care worker has died from COVID-19. Reagan Henry, CNA, worked at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community. He was 39 years old. Our hearts go out to Reagan’s friends and family at this time. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Both nationally and in WNC, the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities. As of July 1, Latinos made up 46% of the state’s COVID-19 cases. To address this discrepancy, Dr. Mandy Cohen announced the state has partnered with five orgs dedicated to the Latino community. The organizations’ coverage areas correspond with the zip codes most affected by the virus. (BPR News)

The Buncombe County Department of Health & Human Services has declared racism a public health crisis. Members said racism makes every other public health issue worse. As of June 30, over 26% of COVID-19 cases in Buncombe County occurred in folks who identified as Hispanic, a group that comprises 6.5% of the county population. (Asheville Citizen-Times) 

The state saw a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday. More than half the state’s deaths are among people who work or live in residential care facilities or nursing homes, and folks 65+ comprise 12% of the state’s positive cases and almost 80% of its fatalities. Currently, 71% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds and 75% of ICU beds are occupied. (News & Observer)

How are our local urgent care centers handling the pandemic? Check out this first-person account of COVID-19’s effect on Mercy Urgent Care – and how the staff there has risen to the challenge – from Grace Barnwell, family nurse practitioner. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

Forty percent of the lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Buncombe County are among those ages 25 to 49. Cases continue to spread after folks continue to interact with other people — even without a certain source of exposure. Officials statewide continue to highlight the importance Wearing a mask, Waiting six feet apart, and Washing your hands frequently. (WLOS)

○ Farmers + farm staff in WNC are at a heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19 because they tend to work in close proximity with one another, especially if they take buses to work. NC State University created an online portal with information for farms and agribusinesses navigating the pandemic with advice on food safety, employee health, disinfecting practices + more. (WLOS)

A recent investigation by the New York Times alleges that despite funding from the CARES Act, the 60 wealthiest hospital chains in the country have furloughed, laid off, or decreased employee pay in efforts to save money amidst the pandemic. Included in the report is HCA Healthcare, the owners of the Mission Health system. Mission says they have spent $138 million on pay continuation programs to date. (BPR News) 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force is concerned about the spread of coronavirus in NC’s urban population centers, including counties like Durham + Wake in the Triangle. Local officials are working to dramatically increase the daily number of COVID-19 tests. Statewide, officials are concerned with the doubling rate, which measures how long it takes for each county’s total number of cases to double. (News & Observer)

Four Michigan doctors ranked the risk levels of 36 businesses + activities from bars to camping. Bars were given a nine out of ten (the riskiest) because alcohol reduces inhibitions. Gyms + churches ranked eight out of ten, while movie theaters and hair salons were given a six out of ten. Camping, grocery shopping + golfing received a three out of ten. (WLOS)

○ Governor Roy Cooper asked anyone who has been in a crowd to get tested for COVID-19. This comes after countless people across the country, including thousands in Asheville, took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd. Health officials advise that if you went to a protest but are not experiencing symptoms to wait a week before getting tested. (WLOS)

○ The NCDHHS is designating child + adult protective services workers as first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will help workers access personal protective equipment when they are in face-to-face situations with families, children + adults. While firsthand observation is useful when determining people’s well-being, they’re working to conduct virtual visits where possible. (WLOS)

Tubing season has arrived. The good news? There’s little risk of contracting COVID-19 if you’re out on the French Broad River. However, experts advise checking on water quality here, as the river’s E. coli levels are still an issue. Tubers should practice social distancing. (Asheville Citizen-Times)  

Two Asheville City Schools employees built a special glass chamber for Buncombe County’s Emergency Management Team to use for COVID-19 testing. The chamber is made of Plexiglas, aluminum + stainless steel and allows medical professionals to stand inside while they test people outside. It weighs about 200 pounds and is seven feet tall + three feet wide. (WLOS)

Western North Carolina University is researching how folks process information + make decisions about COVID-19. Volunteers are interviewed anonymously to gauge how they interpret pandemic-related info they encounter on television, in print, and on social media. Researchers hope to find answers to help counter disinformation, an especially important task as public health restrictions are lifted. (WLOS)

You can now view COVID-19 information based on zip code. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the breakdown of confirmed cases via a searchable, interactive map. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

Buncombe County has a new automated assessment tool to help folks determine if they have COVID-19. COVID-19 Self-Checker can be used online or by phone, and it offers both guidance for anyone feeling symptomatic + data to help Buncombe County determine when it’s safe to begin the first phases of reopening. 

COVID-19 antibody tests are now offered with all Blood Connection blood donations. The tests are free + will be included in the normal panel of testing. This is not a diagnostic test for COVID-19. Research is being conducted on antibodies now, but both the FDA + the CDC note that their presence does not mean someone has immunity to the virus. (WLOS

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has responded to COVID differently than other communities in NC because of its status as a sovereign nation. They have tested more people (1,400 total, one person per household) and have had fewer cases than the surrounding areas. They have also done aggressive contact tracing and closed the borders to the Qualla Boundary before the state’s Stay-Home order was announced. (BPR) 

To help folks in WNC connect to telehealth services during the pandemic, Vaya Health is donating 500 smartphones. The phones will be distributed to local healthcare providers to give to members without smartphones. Vaya will also maintain data plans on phones at no cost to providers or participants for six months or until the crisis ends

Four Seasons, a hospice and palliative care facility in Flat Rock, has expanded services at Elizabeth House, their inpatient unit, to serve COVID-positive patients, creating an isolation hall to protect other patients and staff. The hall will have a private entrance and be staffed separately. 

COVID-19 has changed how the Red Cross responds to people in need. The org recently helped a Candler woman who lost her home to a fire by calling her and setting up a place for her to stay. They have partnered with emergency agencies to help get contact info for people in need, and in need of blood donations. (WLOS

N.C.-based LabCorp has received emergency FDA approval to make at-home COVID-19 testing kits. Swab tests will initially be available for first responders + front line healthcare workers, but should be available to the general public in the next few weeks. The test is listed for $119 on LabCorp’s website. (WLOS)

○  During times of stress and crisis, it can be hard for parents + caregivers to know how to address coronavirus with kids in an honest + age-appropriate way. It is also common for kids to be more demanding and seek more attachment. Check out the World Health Organization’s resources here

Community Conversations

Paycheck Protection Program loans in Asheville

A nurse practitioner’s perspective on COVID-19

Back-to-school options in NC

Outdoor workouts

The 411 on parklets and shared streets

Restaurants with outdoor seating in Asheville

Helping dogs adjust to being home alone

An Asheville therapist on pandemic dreams

How you feel about reopening Asheville

Legal aid during COVID

Car inspections and renewals during COVID

Where to get quarantine BBQ

Alcohol pick-up and delivery

Mental health resources

College admissions in the pandemic

What COVID-19 can teach about community resilience

Alternative birth options

Planning a wedding in quarantine

A collaborative Spotify playlist

Birdwatching 101

Eleven local podcasts

Local ways to lend a hand

Asheville restaurants offering takeout + delivery

Local fitness studios + gyms offering virtual workouts

Share your stories with us + our audience through Voices

Five local creative virtual opportunities for kids

Art in the time of quarantine

Quarantine date night ideas

Virtual library resources

Homeschooling tips

Watch these movies filmed in + around Asheville

Where to get local produce + meat 

Asheville Area Arts Council has compiled a list of resources to stay creative + entertained during self-quarantine. From Asheville Symphony performances + virtual tours of the Asheville Art Museum to local authors to read, CreativeMornings talks, and more, you’ll be able to flex your imagination right here.  

In need of an art fix? Southern Highland Craft Guild is hosting virtual exhibitions, including a guild member show and pieces from their permanent collection, including ancient textiles, craft traditions + more.