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BOONE — Under new restrictions adopted by the Boone Town Council on May 21, anyone (except work commuters) arriving in the town of Boone who previously overnighted outside Watauga County will not be permitted to enter establishments open to the public, other than medical facilities, until they have stayed overnight in Watauga County uninterrupted for at least 14 days.

The restriction, which will remain in effect until at least June 16, applies to both residents and non-residents, whether they are visiting the town for the day or staying overnight, unless current testing confirms the person is not COVID-19 positive. “Establishments open to the public” does not apply to state or county government facilities.

During a web conference meeting, the council voted 3-1, with Councilperson Nancy LaPlaca against, to approve the amendments to its COVID-19 state of emergency declaration that were first proposed by Councilperson Sam Furgiuele on May 7. The restrictions, effective immediately, were passed the day before Watauga County’s 14-day self-quarantine order was to be lifted.

Boone Councilperson Loretta Clawson had to miss the meeting due to illness, according to Boone Town Manager John Ward.

Town attorney Allison Meade said the provision would prohibit the restricted visitors from entering indoor facilities in Boone, but not from going outdoors.

In addition, the amendments require the following measures until further notice:

  • Social distancing is required in all establishments open to the public, in all places of employment and in all public areas except at businesses where distancing is not possible, and except for members of the same household.
  • Employees working for establishments open to the public are required to wear masks — except for employees with a medical or behavioral condition or safety concern — and to disinfect hands after each interaction.
  • To the extent possible, hand sanitizer or disinfectant shall be offered to customers as they enter and leave premises.
  • In retail businesses that can accommodate it, aisles must be designated as one-way.
  • Restaurants may use only disposable menus or menus that are disinfected in between each use.
  • Employees of public establishments must be subject to a daily screening process before the employee begins work, to check for COVID-19 symptoms, and employees should not be permitted to work if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are presumed positive due to symptoms until they meet CDC criteria for release from isolation.

The amendments state that violations are punishable by a class 2 misdemeanor and that law enforcement officers are authorized to first issue warning citations. Boone Town Manager John Ward and Interim Police Chief Andy Le Beau acknowledged that the town doesn’t have the ability to monitor every person who enters the town, and Furgiuele said that enforcement would have to be complaint driven.

Furgiuele said he was motivated by rising COVID-19 cases in surrounding counties.

“I find it remarkable the way we’re hurrying to open up,” Furgiuele said. He noted that setting a sunset date for the self-isolation restriction — which he had originally proposed to be in effect until a vaccine or herd immunity was achieved — was due to optimism that the virus would “abate with warm weather.”

The council passed the amendments after hours of discussion and public comment. A majority of speakers asked the council not to impose the self-isolation restriction.

The governor’s executive orders enacted since March to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have allowed for local government restrictions that go beyond the statewide mandates. Since a state of emergency was declared by Watauga County on March 15, Watauga County and the county’s four municipalities have amended their declarations of emergency to enact restrictions banning overnight lodging and short-term rentals, closing all public playgrounds, recreational courts and shelters and requiring 14-day quarantines for those arriving from an overnight stay outside of the county.

The county commissioners voted May 19 to lift the 14-day quarantine order and allow short-term rentals at 50 percent capacity at the beginning of Phase 2 of the statewide reopening plan, which begins at 5 p.m. May 22.

AppHealthCare Director Jennifer Greene said she recommended lifting the 14-day quarantine restriction and resuming short-term rentals at reduced capacity, calling it “a balanced approach” as there is more potential for people to visit the area.

“I hope that everyone realizes that what we’re trying to do from a public health standpoint is really find a balance in all this. No one wants the death count to be zero more than me, probably,” Greene said. But she said that unemployment, poverty and food insecurity are also public health concerns.

“We have to look at the bigger health picture. I would not be doing my job if we didn’t think about that,” Greene said. “To me the proposal that the county adopted this week is a balanced one.”

She also emphasized the importance of local governments communicating the same message to visitors.

Donna Lisenby of Vilas spoke during the meeting’s public comment period to support Furgiuele’s proposal, noting that while her Airbnb has been closed for business, she has observed a spike in interest from travelers, including some in COVID-19 hotspots across the country.

“Any of them can travel to Boone to shop or rent an Airbnb if y’all don’t protect us,” Lisenby said. “The town has gotten it right. By proposing stronger measures, you are doing the right thing. The longer we can prevent a rise in cases in Boone and Watauga County, the more lives we save.”

Justin Patel, a Boone hotelier, noted that he has taken personal precautions due to several members of his family who are at high risk for severe illness from the virus. But he said that “we have to find a new normal with this virus. We cannot wait on a vaccine that may never come.”

He said his company’s hotels have required staff to wear masks, have installed plastic shields, have put up notices about the “three Ws,” are keeping doors open when possible and are taking other measures.

“We thrive and survive on tourism. Without it, Boone will die,” Patel said. “We need to get back to our lives.”

District Attorney Seth Banks asked the council to consider potential issues such as the constitutionality of some emergency declaration provisions, not all of which have been litigated in the courts, as well as how the measures could impact the police department’s community partnerships and create resource allocation issues for the court system.

Jessica Smith, general manager of the Courtyard Marriott in Boone, said the hotel had to lay off 90 percent of its more than 80-person workforce for two properties.

“We need to put our citizens back to work,” Smith said.

Maggie Trumpower, a student and full-time resident of the area, said she believed that the restrictions are needed now to prepare for students to return in the fall. Boone resident Pam Williamson said that Boone, a destination town, must protect its service workers.

“We can’t afford to get it wrong. How many cases and lives is worth it?” Williamson said. “The bottom line is we either prioritize the safety of our residents, or we don’t.”

Dennis Ryan said that he and his wife have owned a condo in the area since 2016 and plan to move there permanently in September. He said they were surprised to learn they could travel to most places in North Carolina, including their condo, but that it seemed they would not be welcome in Boone.

“We don’t feel like we or anyone like us would somehow pose more risk to Boone simply because we’re crossing a town border,” Ryan said.

Sherrill Wieland, a second homeowner in the area who lives in the Orlando, Florida, area, said that as her state has reopened, hospitals have not been overwhelmed. She urged the council to help the town’s businesses reopen responsibly.

Although well intentioned, “we can see that an innocent overreaction can have far-reaching consequences,” Wieland said. “If we don’t get back to an economic recovery, it’s going to hurt everybody.”

Watauga County Tourism Development Authority Director Wright Tilley said he believed that health and safety were top considerations by the governor and county leaders in developing their reopening plans. He emphasized the impacts of the hospitality industry on the local economy.

“Travel sustained more than 2,800 tourism jobs in Watauga County,” Tilley said. “Do you want to put those people out of work?

“The quarantine is almost impossible to enforce,” he added. “The only thing the quarantine is going to do is tell visitors and second homeowners that they’re not welcome.”

Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson cited a recent preliminary report from Appalachian State University’s Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis concluding that COVID-19-related closures and operation interruptions to Watauga County’s restaurant/bar and accommodation businesses during the month of April decreased gross regional product by $31.1 million.

Meanwhile, “access to loans has been tough to come by for many small businesses,” Jackson said, and local nonprofit revenues have also been impacted as demand for service has risen. And while some, like Lisenby, have made the decision to keep certain businesses closed, he said, “our point remains that not everyone in the county can personally afford to make a similar sacrifice.”

“The economic discussion has been mischaracterized by some as being about greed and chasing the almighty dollar,” Jackson said.

Councilperson Dustin Hicks presented an alternative resolution for consideration that would have strongly encouraged many of the measures, rather than mandating them, but when Furgiuele’s motion proceeded to a vote without incorporating Hicks’ alternatives, Hicks indicated they were voting in favor in part because of favorable revisions made to the original proposals.

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(23) comments

Kinney R. Baughman

There's been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth over the restrictions the Boone Town Council made regarding opening Boone back up.

I strongly believe we have to find some kind of happy medium between 1) shutting everything down and 2) opening everything back up; no ifs, ands, or buts.

Fundamental to finding this middle way is that everyone start exercising decency and respect towards their fellow citizens again and that starts by wearing a mask in public.

The cold hard truth is that ALL we have right now to fight this thing is: 1) wearing a mask and 2) social distancing.

Period.

The vaccine won't be getting here until next year. Sorry. That's just the way these things work, that is unless you really do want to start dying from the cure.

Unfortunately for us, we simply don't have the kind of leadership at the top we need to get us through this thing. That means it is up to us, folks, and only us. And we're all in this together.

I went into town last night for the first time in a month. One stop was Lowes to pick up some bird feed - there is very little there, BTW.

Fully 75% of the people in that store were walking around without masks!!

I'm 67 years old which puts me in the high risk category. My wife had pneumonia and has a compromised respiratory system. Her chances of surviving this are even less than mine.

We'd both like to live a few more years on this earth because ... why not?

I'm more than willing to investigate creative ways that push the limits on getting the economy opened back up. But what I'm not going to do is risk my life because people who, for whatever reason - stubbornness, political bias, mean spiritedness - are not showing respect to their fellow citizens by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

The game that none of us should be willing to play is the one where we go into a restaurant or a business among a bunch of people - whether they be from Avery, Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes counties or Florida - not following the rules, who are in effect randomly firing shots of coronavirus around the store at everyone within 6 feet of them.

Wear a mask, people!

All this ire and outrage directed towards the Boone Council is fundamentally misplaced.

If you are walking into businesses in the High Country, disrespecting the locals and your fellow human beings by not wearing a mask and not practicing social distancing, you are out of line to be outraged at our town council.

You should instead be ashamed of yourselves.

Either wear a mask or stay at home.

The sad truth is this is trench warfare and we have no other choice until a vaccine is released.

Peace everyone. Stay safe out there.

And wear a mask.

Rubicon

What kind of morons are running this town. How on earth are you or anyone else going to know whether I just came into town or I have hibernating here for the last whatever days you dictate. I come and go from my homes between Boone and S. Florida. Is this body of geniuses going to set up roadblocks into ever know entrance point into town and check every car coming into the area. And what if, BIG WHAT IF, I am stopped at Check Point Charlie and tell the Boone Customs Officer that I have not been out of the county overnight or if I do tell them I was or I refuse to tell them anything at all am I going to be denied entry into Boone to my rightful home? Boy would my attorney, the ACLU, and every media outlet out there be salivating over the fact that civil rights are being violated. Who is going to to come to my home and check if I am adhering to the 14 day lock up. I was in Law Enforcement for close to 40 years and our officers have enough on their plate to deal with let alone having them track down these harden criminals. You will be putting some new rookie officer in a situation where he/she may take your stupid order too seriously and put them in harms way for no good reason. Chief keep this in mind....

I have been supporting the local restaurants as much as possible. And what I hear is very disturbing. Some of these long time business owners are having a real rough time and they are not sure they will survive. Beside having to deal with reduce revenue of unimaginable proportions, if and when your anes allows them to open they will not have enough individuals in town to hire, so no staff. For a county that has had so little confirmed virus cases you idiots on the Boone Throne are destroying the life blood of this beautiful town,. This is what happens when POWER is given to those with limited capacity to reason or think...

Kinney R. Baughman

Or maybe you could get down off your high horse. I didn't know they made ladders that high.

The issue on the table is how we are to conduct ourselves, as consumer and citizens, when we go out into public and try to do engage with our local businesses.

People are not wearing masks and are risking the health of the minimum wage workers checking you out of the restaurants you are allegedly supporting. If you truly believe in the principles of capitalism and freedom, which includes the freedom of people to not die at the altar of you getting a hamburger at your favorite restaurant, then wear a mask and practice social distancing.

That is all.

Peace.

Rubicon

In todays age you would be surprised at how high they can make "that ladder."

What I am talking about is our civil liberties. No governmental body has the right to suppress our civil liberties. Last time I looked this was still the United States of America. Granted a person with a contagious decease which could be spread and cause great illness or death can be legally quarantined under public health safety. But for a government body to blanket an order that everyone has to self quarantine or face the consequences from the all might Boone Town Council because a person came from outside Boone's town boundaries is bull. I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY CIVIL LIBERTIES period. Today is Memorial Day. I have lost members of my family in wars defending OUR civil liberties. I get it, I to do not want to get this terrible virus. I am in my sixties and don't care to find out if I can beat this or not. Like I mentioned, I come from S. Florida where every store and government building requires a mask. I wear a mask here and in Florida. I have become a germaphobe because of all this. But don't pass such a law/ordinance that attacks our civil liberties because there are many civil liberty attorneys waiting in prey. When this is all behind us, you will see many court issues arise throughout the country against local government over reach. You are starting to see into. And for your information I have been a huge supporter of the local restaurants around Boone for over 10 years and will continue to support.

Jeff Templeton

Sam Furgiuele is nothing more than a Liberal Activist parading as an attorney. He has a history of promoting illegal regulations in Boone, knowing that they will stand until someone challenges them in court. I find it self-serving that AirBnB owner Donna Lisenby has kept her business open in Vilas, while supporting the increased restrictions on businesses in Boone. That’s a little hypocritical, don’t you think Donna. And Pam Williamson’s comment regarding “Boone being a destination town (that) must protect its service workers” is beyond idiotic. Boone has one of the lowest Covid-19 rates in the state, and the service workers are disparate for work. Pam’s Ok though, she’s retired from ASU and doesn’t need a paycheck to survive.

Jigger123

Any council members business owners that were shut down and now considering bankruptcy?

Yeah. Didn't think so.

Kinney R. Baughman

Are you wearing a mask when you go out and do business in the High Country?

Yeah. Didn't think so.

Wear a mask.

craigb@gmail.com

No member of town council has ever run a business. Thankfully our business is out of the city limits and I will encourage all our visitors to eat and spend money in Blowing Rock and Banner Elk. Then in 6 months when Town of Boone has no tax revenue to spend maybe we can vote this bunch off council

Kinney R. Baughman

When I was kid, my family back in South Carolina, actually used to be in the funeral business.

It was tough back then. Small town. Not a lot of people dying. I remember my dad telling us if we could just have one funeral a week, we could make a living.

Too bad I grew up in the 60's and lived in a town of 500 people.

If it were 2020 and we lived in these times with people like attitudes like that, we'd have made a killing.

No pun intended.

Wear a mask. You used to when you worked on my teeth.

Why can't you encourage people to do it now?

lowepgpix@gmail.com

Thank goodness the virus is kind enough to stop at town borders and obey these data-driven and scientifically sound ideas from the Boone elders.

keithvn58@gmail.com

There is a lack of epidemiologic understanding exhibited by at least one of the council members. Herd immunity requires around 70% of a population to develop immunity to a pathogen. This, of course, cannot be achieved using isolation of individuals but is possible with an effective vaccine and a high vaccine compliance rate. Unfortunately, history shows us that annual flu vaccine rates hover in the low 40% range. Thus it is unlikely that a Covid19 vaccine will achieve herd immunity in the US. So I suppose Boone will remain isolated from the outside world indefinitely.

sickofstupid

See The Dept of Justice Title 18 Section 242 Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law. " It is a crime for persons acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States". Read it and digest it. Our City Council has clearly overstepped its boundaries. Think about that for moment taxpayers, business owners, and citizens. I encourage each one of you to find your voices and challenge this mandate.

Kinney R. Baughman

And I encourage you to read the Bill of Rights which guarantees the right of every American to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

These are difficult times where we have no leadership from the top and are forced to face this pandemic on our own.

Our adversary is not the Boone Town Council.

The fight is against a silent enemy who can hitch a ride on your shoulder two weeks before you smell his fetid breath.

Our defense is wearing a mask in public so we can protect the cashiers taking your money at the cash register because you didn't think ahead.

Common decency dictates that you wear a mask when you go out to celebrate and support the businesses you profess to celebrate and support.

That is all.

Peace and prosperity to Boone and the High Country.

That is all any of us are wishing for.

Be the example you proclaim yourself to be.

Wear a mask.

Donald

The Boone city council and county supervisors are elected by a majority of very liberal ASU faculty and students who have never owned a business or managed one, and we end up with far left academics and bureaucrats making local regulations and laws. This is why we get unenforceable and illogical results! This is what we can expect until we can force students, that are temporary residents, to only vote in their parents city and county elections.

mike@mlbrown.com

Goes beyond unenforceable. Apparently the council has not actually read the executive orders. Everyone since late April has said that no restrictions on retail establishments beyond what was in the executive order including yesterday’s order for Phase 2.

ericsthomas@hotmail.com

This is kind of like saying that anyone with a pimple on their behind can't plant a garden. How are they gonna know?!? Typical beard-stroking, faux-intellectual, twits who take pride in passing unenforceable laws.

keithvn58@gmail.com

I plan on keeping up with these new Boone restrictions indefinitely. Will shop in Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, etc.

ericsthomas@hotmail.com

This is kind of like saying that anyone with a pimple on their arse can't plant a garden. How in the heck are they gonna know?!? Typical beard-stroking, faux-intellectual, twits who take pride in passing unenforceable laws.

Paul D

The council members already made up their minds about this. The vast majority of people spoke out against this. They didn't care. Council member Sam berated the actual only health care professional speaking repeatedly to try to force an answer out of her. It was disgraceful. He was clearly trying to justify his asinine position.

The law requires snitches (Karens) in order for it to work. Then the police (Capt "brown shirt" Andy already said they would) to enforce the law by taking away resources from other, actual crimes (like rape, theft, vandalism, robbery, etc) to dedicate to investigating people (which will require asking them for their traveling papers) - it disgusts me.

andy@andybrowning.com

David Jackson needs to be listened to.

Roadking

No he needs to be in office for Watauga County

andy@andybrowning.com

You guys need to elect better leaders instead of these liberal anti-business hacks

Roadking

We would but the students at Appstate actually gets to vote in our elections and they are tend to vote one way. IOf course none of them are here now because they are in their hometown where they should have voted.

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