BOONE — Eyes and ears are focused on Tuesday and Thursday, May 19 and 21, when the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and Boone Town Council will each deliberate over how to move forward with local COVID-19 restrictions.

The commissioners will revisit the plan they adopted at their May 5 meeting to maintain local emergency restrictions through the first two weeks of Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan — meaning if Phase 2 begins May 22, local restrictions such as the 14-day quarantine order and ban on short-term rentals would not be eased until June 5. At that time, the county plans to discontinue the 14-day self-quarantine restriction and resume lodging and short-term rentals, with facilities having more than a six-person occupancy limited to 50 percent occupancy.

But according to the materials for the May 19 commission meeting, “after the board adopted the above option, the governor modified the recommendations of his Phase 1 and several of the surrounding counties removed or partially lifted their restrictions. The county has received many comments regarding the 14-day self-quarantine and the issues related with its continued enforcement.”

Thus far, leaders of the county and its four municipalities have acted in unison to amend declarations of emergency to enact restrictions that go beyond the governor’s executive orders. The amendments bar overnight lodging and short-term rentals; have closed all public playgrounds, recreational courts and shelters; and require 14-day quarantines for those arriving from an overnight stay outside of the county.

But at least two municipalities — Boone and Blowing Rock — have indicated the potential to diverge from the unified plan.

The Boone Town Council will consider a proposal by Councilperson Sam Furgiuele to enact a number of measures to remain in effect until modified or until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, including an order for people arriving in Boone from other areas to self-quarantine for 14 days. Other measures include: requiring employees interacting with the public to wear a face mask; requiring establishments open to the public to provide hand sanitizers for use as people enter and leave, to the extent that such products are available; requiring businesses to screen employees for symptoms; and requiring disposable menus at restaurants.

Furgiuele expressed concerns that reopening plans are moving too quickly and that the town has a responsibility to protect its citizens. The council on May 7 voted 4-1, with Councilperson Nancy LaPlaca against, to direct the town attorney to draft language incorporating the proposals for consideration at the regular May council meeting.

The proposal has drawn concerns and criticism from the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and the High Country Association of Realtors.

“The language outlining a proposed indefinite lengthening of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors coming to the area, as well residents traveling from and back to the area, represents an unrealistic enforcement issue and poses negative impacts on our tourism economy, small business community, incoming college students and a large percentage of our workforce, who may work in Boone, but live in counties other than Watauga,” the chamber stated in a May 8 statement indicated it “strongly disagrees” with the proposal.

The HCAR released a statement on May 12 addressing the council’s proposal.

“Your recent action to break away from the High Country’s unified response to the COVID-19 crisis is detrimental to both businesses and its citizens,” it said. “This decision adds to the confusion of who can come to Boone, where can they stay, for how long and if they are “essential” or not. This will have a direct effect on the real estate industry in Boone, which will trickle down to our small town businesses (inspectors, attorneys, mortgage lenders, insurance carriers, movers, contractors, etc.) and even further to shopping, dining and attractions.”

The Blowing Rock Town Council on May 12 heard concerns from representatives of local businesses and homeowners about the county’s plan, urging the town to instead lift the local restrictions with the beginning of the statewide Phase 2.

The Blowing Rock council scheduled a special meeting for 3 p.m. Thursday, May 21, to consider possible action on COVID-19 restrictions following the commission’s reconsideration of its plan.

At a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce on May 13, AppHealthCare Director Jennifer Greene said that health officials want to have enough time to implement plans for expanded testing and to train additional contact tracers before lifting all restrictions.

“Our intention was never to have (restrictions) be ongoing forever and ever, but to use the data to drive the decisions,” Greene said.

Melissa Bracey, spokesperson for AppHealthCare (the public health department for Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties), said on May 14 that the department did not yet know how many of the 250 contact tracers being hired statewide would be working with AppHealthCare.

“As we meet the need to expand testing, we want to make sure we have the capacity to perform contact tracing so we can quickly isolate positive cases and quarantine close contacts,” Bracey said. “To that end, we have shifted some staff to be ready to support the additional projected need contact tracing efforts in the interim. Our public health nurses routinely do contact tracing, in addition to initial case investigation routinely, and to date, have continued that effort for every positive case identified.”

N.C. Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone), who participated in the chamber town hall, encouraged government leaders to legislate based on science, saying that otherwise, leaders risk breeding mistrust or rebellion.

“(Don’t) make rules to make rules,” Russell said.

David Jackson, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber, said during the May 13 town hall that it would be important for area businesses to gain customer trust by “doing the right thing,” such as wearing masks, posting signage and adhering to social distancing recommendations. Margaret Roy, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Boone, said that the hotel has already had to turn away business due to restrictions that are more stringent than the state, which drives customers to other communities.

“The longer that we send them to those places, the less chance that we have to get them back,” Roy said.

The county commissioners meet virtually at 5:30 p.m. May 19. Public comments can be submitted by email to public.comments@watgov.org.

The Boone Town Council will consider draft restrictions at the May 21 virtual meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. To provide public comment for the Boone Town Council, email Town Manager John Ward at john.ward@townofboone.net or call in at 828-268-6205 and you will be provided with an invite to the meeting. All registrations must be completed by 5:45 p.m. on the day of the meeting.

Recommended for you

(3) comments

lowepgpix@gmail.com

I don't agree with much of what Cooper has to say, but one thing he recently said I DO agree with. And this was specifically in regards to some counties and localities feeling the need to create their own separate (often conflicting) restrictions, “the virus does not respect county lines.”

Paul D

Letter to the council:

I've read the list of enhanced restrictions and I have plenty of questions/comments:

1. Do you believe Gov. Cooper is needlessly putting people at risk with his very restrictive measures that our county MUST have tighter and longer restrictions?

2. Did Gov Cooper work with medical professionals, WHO, CDC, etc to come up with these measures? If you don't know, why don't you? If he did, why are you dictating more?

3. Did the committee (or whomever) randomly come up with measures or are these measures based on information Gov Cooper doesn't have? Did you consult world renown viral doctors, international health organizations - are any of you qualified to make decisions beyond people like these, if not, why are you?

4. If Gov. Cooper's measures aren't sufficient, what scientific data are you using to come up with the reasons for the measures your demanding be taken? If you don't have scientific data, why are you doing anything?

5. What do you intend to do about the unbelievable massive tax hole this will cause?

6. Do you intent to raise property taxes (again)?

6a. Are you aware this will impact affordable housing, something students complain about repeatedly, as well as the general population who live and work here?

6b. Business already destroyed by forced closings will be further impacted heavily by any increase in property taxes, making employee pay lower, less jobs, less things for the citizens to do/shop/etc.

7. Tennessee is open - people will go there for services, this is lost revenue and lost taxes. Why are we imposing rules that will make it better for Tennessee and worse for North Carolina?

8. Neighboring counties will not be as restrictive - people will go there for services, again, lost local taxes and revenue. Why are we imposing rules that will make Watagua worse?

Instead of additional restrictions, the county should be looking for ways to allow the county to be as open as possible, even loosening statewide restrictions. Right now we don't have the infected mass of students here, right now, we don't have an overburdened medical emergency. Right now, we need to manage the virus in a way that takes in to account that, in several months, students will return who will ignore everything you're doing (or just be totally unaware) and will also bring COVID with them. This will infect the other students who don't have it as well as locals, which will flood our medical emergency systems. If we deal with the inevitable spread of COVID to locals sooner rather than when we're flooded with students, the locals will survive and thrive.

The proposed plan is literally setting up the county to be crushed when the students come back. The plan will destroy the tourism industry here. The plan will empty the tax coffers leaving essential services unfunded.

I've struggled to write this as I'm 100% certain my words will fall on deaf ears. But, I'm going to try anyway. I've never met a politician who listens to the people, maybe I'll be surprised for once.

But, should you actually care and be willing to listen, the take away is this: Cooper's restrictions are already over the top, states without these are doing OK (this is real actual data - science even) - we don't need more restrictions, we need less. Both for the immediate health of locals, the ability to service students health when they return and, also, to not destroy the local economy which creates a problem that you will see as an opportunity to raise taxes over. The legit solution is to loosen restrictions, allow businesses to thrive, restore the sales tax income, allow locals to use the medical capacity now (which is not even close to capacity) and then, when students return, the medical capacity won't be overwhelmed. It is truly the "this will save lives" plan that also, as a bonus, doesn't destroy people's lives economically and bring a cycle of tax hikes.

andy@andybrowning.com

Draconian measures are killing the local economy

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.