Comeback Shack sign

A sign on the front door of the Comeback Shack in Boone directs customers to the drive-thru as seen on Tuesday, March 17.

WATAUGA – All across the High Country, restaurants and bars have paper signs on their doors noting that their dine-in options are closed to help prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Restaurants either made the decisions themselves or were forced to when Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order that was effective at 5 p.m. on March 17.

“We did not come to this decision easily,” Cooper said in a March 17 press conference. “But North Carolina must keep fighting this pandemic with the right weapons.”

With an uncertain future, Watauga-area bars and restaurants are having to adapt to the changing rules as governments try to contain the COVID-19 spread.

“A number of restaurants are encouraging people to buy gift cards now,” Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson said. “Many restaurants are altering their options, doing curbside pickups, some doing deliveries that haven’t done it before.”

“I hope this community responds like others,” Jackson said.

With Appalachian State University moving to online classes starting March 23, Jackson isn’t sure when students will come back, or if they will for the spring semester.

“One thing that has taken the volume (of traffic) down was that a lot of ASU employees are now telecommuting,” Jackson said. “It has lessened the number of people in and around campus.”

For a list of altered services that local businesses are providing during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit Restaurants can email with details of announcements and are encouraged to send links to information and online menus.

Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Charles Hardin said that a lot of restaurants and bars depend on ASU students as staff.

“They’re trying to do everything they can to keep as many employees working as possible,” Hardin said.

Some restaurants are using the opportunity to offer help to those affected by the COVID-19 situation, such as families with children who are now home from school. The New Public House in Blowing Rock is offering free take-out breakfast from 8-11 a.m. on Monday through Friday for all kids regardless of age and means to pay, with no purchase necessary.

To help with the effects of lost jobs or reduced hours, Cooper also announced an extension of unemployment benefits on March 17.

Those changes include removing the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment benefits for those workers who lose their jobs; removing the requirement that a person must look for another job; allowing employees who lose their jobs or have their hours reduced due to COVID-19 issues to apply for unemployment benefits; waiving the requirement that part of the application process be in person; and directing that these unemployment losses won’t be counted against employers.

In a follow-up statement, Senate Leader Phil Berger said that the state has a $3.8 billion unemployment reserve. Cooper said that additional employee relief will likely come from the federal government.

The High Country Visitor Center, located at 6370 U.S. 321, in Blowing Rock, closed to visitors effective March 16, but is still reachable by phone or online.

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