BOONE — Watauga County, in conjunction with the towns of Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, Boone and Seven Devils, will be closing all playgrounds, recreational courts and picnic shelters, effective Monday, March 30, at noon until further notice.

"This is a preventive measure to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and lessen its impact on our community," AppHealthCare, the regional public health department, stated. "As this situation evolves rapidly, Watauga County and partner municipalities will continue monitoring usage of recreation facilities to determine if further action is warranted for social distancing. The county is taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of its residents during this rapidly changing situation."

This closure also applies to school playgrounds. Child care facilities will still operate as they are exempt from this closure.

These new guidelines will be incorporated as part of the existing Watauga County state of emergency that is currently in effect through the course of this public health emergency.

“During this difficult time, we recognize everyone will need an outlet for physical exercise to help manage stress and support their overall physical health,"  said Deron Geouque, county manager, in a statement. "Therefore, we have kept the use of trail and walking areas open for now. However, we are encouraging people to continue to avoid using any facility if they feel ill, have a fever (or) a cough and to keep six feet between themselves and others.”

Amid warmer weather over the weekend, several reports and photos circulated on social media of large gatherings of people at popular swimming holes, including along the Watauga River.

“It is becoming clear to us that there are some in our community that are not taking this risk seriously, said Jennifer Greene, health director. "Please, I cannot stress enough how critical it is for you to help protect all of us through your actions. Governor Cooper’s updated executive order clearly bans gatherings of 10 or more people starting Monday, March 30. We expect people to follow this order to help protect the entire community. Now is the time to think of others and know that this illness can be severe."

Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers said that the town had taken the step to close the gathering areas in its parks the morning of March 29 in advance of the county announcement.

On March 30, the town of Seven Devils closed the facilities at Black Bear Park, includes the playground, the picnic shelter, and the tennis/pickleball courts.

People at high risk include anyone who:

  • Is 65 years of age or older
  • Lives in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Have a high-risk condition that includes: Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; Heart disease with complications; Compromised immune system; Severe obesity - body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher; or Other underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as diabetes, renal failure or liver disease

People who are at high risk should stay home to the greatest extent possible to decrease the chance of infection, the department said.

AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. To reach them, call (828) 264-4995 anytime and follow the prompts. Visit www.AppHealthCare.com or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Questions from agencies requesting support on COVID-19 response, planning efforts, etc. can contact preparedness@apphealth.com.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has more information at cdc.gov/coronavirus. North Carolina resources can be found on the Division of Public Health website at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.

A COVID-19 toll free helpline has been set up to answer general, non-emergent questions at 1-866-462-3821. To submit questions online, go to www.ncpoisoncontrol.org and select “chat.”

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