Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

'We've got to get our people back to work,' Hawkins says

Henderson County commissioners want to take the wheel on a plan to begin reopening the local economy.

County Commission Chair Grady Hawkins said Wednesday that the board has formally asked Gov. Roy Cooper for the authority to form a plan for getting businesses back and running at the end of this month.

"In my opinion this whole pandemic we're experiencing is not just a random thing that happened," Hawkins said. "We know the governor has two executive orders that both expire at the end of the month and to that end this board sent a letter to the governor asking him to allow this county to make its own plan. We need to get our people back to work sooner rather than later."

"Mecklenburg County and Wake is going to have a totally different situation than we're going to have here," he said. "Meanwhile, I've asked commissioners to take a look at a task force headed by commissioners Lapsley and McCall to start developing a plan." The task force also including business owners, health providers and restaurant owners will "start looking at how we plan to move forward if we get the green light (from the governor) at the end of the month. We're not going to win the war until we're all the way back at full employment. Our people need to go back to work."

Hawkins's comment came at the end of the county's weekly update on the Covid-19 crisis and seemed to signal a change in tone from the Board of Commissioners, which has adopted strong measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Commissioners adopted a stay-at-home even before Cooper signed his statewide order, and it has ordered further restrictions on hotel stays by people from Covid-19 hot zones.

Earlier in the meeting, public health and emergency management officials answered questions members of the public had submitted by email.

Of 99 current cases, 82 are clustered in assisted living or other congregant living facilities, Public Health Director Steve Smith said, involving residents and staff. A state official expressed caution about passing on the number of recovered cases, he said. The vast majority of people are recovering. It's going to take a few weeks before we're able to confirm the recoveries.

How is county monitoring the use of masks?

Smith said he's been impressed with the safeguards supermarkets and other retailers have put in place. Law enforcement can't possibly stop every car to see why people are traveling outside the home. "We rely on the community to police itself if you will," said EMS Director Jimmy Brissie. "By and large what we're doing is working." Emergency workers, law officers and firefighters answered hundreds of calls during the big windstorm Sunday night, he added.

There is no curfew. "We're asking people to be responsible in how they're going about their essential business," Brissie said.

Will the stay-home order be extended? Impossible to say at the moment. The situation is being evaluated constantly.

Why is Lowe's open and packed with people and why is Flat Rock park open? The county is working with stores on precautions. The governor's order effective Monday further restricts the number of people in stores.

Which long-term care facilities have cases? Based on concerns for medical confidentiality, the county is not releasing the names of all the facilities affected aside from the three that announced cases themselves — Bryant Center, the Laurels of Hendersonville and Cherry Springs.

Why is county not providing more information on testing? Other places are providing cases by zip code or town. Why not here? All facilities have been proactive in announcing cases. The Health Department has not been identifying the assisted living facilities. Health care providers are notifying families and contacts of residents and staffers who test positive.

The county has 99 cases as of today and eight deaths.

How many tests, total? About 500 tests, with 99 positive tests.

How many cases are at Pardee and Advent? The county is not disclosing those numbers because of HIPPA, the federal patient privacy law.

How can I get tested? If you're interested in getting tested talk with your primary care physician. "If you have no symptons or very mild symptoms we ask that you not pursue that," Smith said. "If you have mild symptoms and a year ago you would not have gone to the doctor, don't go to the doctor now."

Has everyone who legitimately needed a test got one? In general, that's true, although some people have asked about getting tested and not been deemed to need one, Smith said.

Why does Henderson County have such a high death rate? At a little more than 4 percent, the death rate is higher than many other counties, primarily because 82 cases of 99 are at long-term care facilities and involve patients with "serious underlying conditions," Smith said. "It's always going to be a higher mortality rate for those folks."

Where are the cases? "I know my answer to this doesn't satisfy everyone," Smith said. "The physical location of cases really have no bearing on all on the transmission risk that you as an in may experience." To avoid exposure, observe the stay-home order.

More widespread and quick testing is the answer to knowing how many cases there are and to guide reopening of businesses, etc. Widespread, rapid testing locally is weeks away, Brissie said. He's unsure how quickly those will start shipping.

Sometimes Covid-19 is listed as a primary cause and sometimes listed as secondary cause of death.

How is county working with care facilities? Started the process months ago, getting information on each facility, on residents, staff. The county has a weekly conference call with administrators and medical directors. It conducts tests. They speak with corporate leadership to find out their needs, helping them get resources like thermometers and PPP.

Commissioner Rebecca McCall said she had heard reports from residents stuck at home tormented by motorcycles, gunshots and other annoying sounds.

"I just want to reach out to the public and ask them to respect their neighbors and have some compassion with regard to the situation," she said.