Asheville, following county, declares local coronavirus state of emergency

Joel Burgess
Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - In order to exercise special powers related to the coronavirus pandemic, the city has declared a local state of emergency separate from one declared earlier by Buncombe County.

No cases of the COVID-19 had been confirmed in Buncombe County as of the evening of March 12, but Mayor Esther Manheimer said it was important to make the declaration separate from another local declaration made earlier in the day by county government.

Coronavirus as of March 12:15 cases of COVID-19 in NC

"It's so we could limit the size of groups gathering on city-owned property, and we are limiting it to groups of less than 250," Manheimer said. 

"If need be, there are other emergency measures we would be able to take regarding quarantining."

Asheville declared a state of emergency March 12, 2020, over concerns about COVID-19.

Manheimer said she signed the measure shortly before 3:30 p.m. An official announcement was released just after 7 p.m. It noted the proclamation covered gatherings at Harrah's Cherokee Casino-Asheville.

The city also is exploring ways to allow people to participate in meetings without physically attending. Officials are seeking advice on legal aspects from experts with the UNC School of Government, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, a council retreat is scheduled for 8 a.m. March 13 at the Harrah's Cherokee Center-Asheville in the Banquet Hall. The retreat will be live-streamed.


► Coronavirus: Buncombe declares local state of emergency

► How prepared is Buncombe for the coronavirus? Here's what we know.

The county's earlier declaration makes Buncombe eligible for state and federal resources that may be made available to communities to address the COVID-19, county Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman said at the time. It enables all units of government in Buncombe too work together in the response. County staff recommended allowing the quick transfer of $250,000 from the budget fund balance to public health if necessary.

COVID-19: A global pandemic, tests pending from WNC

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic March 11, as the WHO director general announced more than 100,000 cases of the respiratory illness in over 100 countries. The WHO reported early this month that the death rate for the virus was 3.4%.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on March 10, activating the Emergency Operations Center, which will help agencies coordinate their responses, according to a press release from Cooper's office.

A state of emergency also allows the state government to protect consumers from price gouging, increases county health departments' access to state funds and makes it easier to purchase essential medical supplies, the release said. 

As of the afternoon of March 12, no confirmed cases of the virus had been reported in Buncombe County. During the county's media briefing, medical director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore said there are COVID-19 tests from WNC pending, but none had been returned with a presumed positive result.

Statewide, a total of 15 people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of that afternoon.

Four of the five recently identified cases are a Forsyth County couple, a Johnston County resident and a Durham resident who tested positive in another state, the release said. 

The fifth and sixth cases are in Mecklenburg County, according to the County's Department of Public Health. 

Recommendations from officials

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said at a press conference that people at high risk — those over the age of 65 or with underlying health conditions — should avoid large gatherings as much as possible, including church services, concerts and sporting events.

If you think you have COVID-19, officials advise that you first call your doctor. If you do not have a doctor, call the Buncombe health department's communicable disease line at 828-250-5109.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories ranging from gerrymandering to policing.