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Impatient with stay-at-home order, commissioners again seek local flexibility

Henderson County commissioners on Monday called on Gov. Roy Cooper to give them the authority to implement their own economic reopening plan so that county residents may "pursue life, liberty and the fruits of their labor."

Increasingly impatient with the statewide stay-at-home order that has crippled the local economy, Henderson County commissioners bolstered an appeal they made to Cooper three weeks ago with a freshly drafted resolution declaring that North Carolina's "vast diversity" makes it unlikely that "one approach will be universally effective in meeting the needs of all of our citizens."

The commissioners' action came at the tail end of their regular meeting in which they looked at the trends in the number of covid-19 cases, the prevelance of cases in the community outside congregant care facilities and the mortality rate. The statistics here, commissioners said, satisfy guidelines Cooper has spelled out for reopening. Although Henderson County has a high number of cases and deaths for its size, around 80 percent of the cases — and all the deaths — are associated with long-term care facilities, public health officials say. The county has avoided a huge surge in cases that public health officials and hospital administrators feared would overwhelm patient halls and ICUs and it has flattened the curve of community spread to a manageable number.

"I feel like our community is in better shape than the number (Gov. Cooper) wants us to use to make a decision," Commissioner Bill Lapsley said.

"The problem is anytime we make a move the governor moves the goal," Chairman Grady Hawkins said. "It's hard to win that game if you keep chasing a goal that moves away. The challege we end up with is how to figure out how to work  with governor to get our people back to work here in Henderson County."

"We've got seven benchmarks we need to make to move foward," he said. "We've met those requirements, we've looked at trajectories." The county looked at deaths, testing, contact tracing and PPE. "By any measure of evaluation this county's ready to be in phase 2 tomorrow."

CooperLetterBut it's unlikely to get the flexibility Hawkins requested in a letter to Cooper.

"The letter I received today indicated that the virus doesn't know any boundaries, which I interpreted we need to have entire state meet these trajectories before the governor lifts the stay-at-home order," he said. "We're continuing to try to work with the governor as far as meeting his criteria, his benchmarks."

In a letter dated May 2, Cooper said the state's response to the pandemic is a three-front battle designed to stop the spread of the disease and save lives, work with hospitals and health care providers to prepare for a surge in cases and repair the economy through unemployment checks and additional federal aid for small businesses.

"The virus does not recognize county or city borders, and we must be as coordinated as possible in our efforts to fight the virus and restart our economy," Cooper said.

In its resolution, the Board of Commissioners said the statewide stay-home order fails to "achieve the balance between protecting public health and preserving the local economy." Given the state's make of 100 counties ranging from "small rural to large urban ... the logical approach is to allow for locally elected, and accountable, decision makers to design and implement plans unique to their communities and evolving situations."

Introduced and read by Commissioner Rebecca McCall, the resolution followed an update McCall and Lapsley gave on a  special Post-Covid committee made up of business owners. The committee met three times over the past two weeks and developed guidelines for reopening shops, restaurants and manufacturing plants.

"All that work has been done but it's all on hold, so to speak, pending a decision from the governor" on whether the stay-at-home order is lifted or ease, Lapsley said.

Hawkins said he would add a cover letter telling Cooper "one program doesn't really fit all the counties" and that "our county is ready to move out of the stay-at-home executive order." Hawkins also recommended that commissioners lift the emergency orders it had made since the coronavirus threat began but decided to delay action until Cooper announces the next steps this week.

McCall pointed out that support for reopening soon is not universal.

"We have received a lot of emails from people who have asked that we not open back up" because they're concerned about the spread of the virus, she said. "I would like to remind them that even if we do open the businesses you don't have to go. If you don't feel safe you can still remain in your own house. Just because a business is open doesn't mean you have to go to it."

TrendChart shows that the county's two hospitals have had few covid-19 hospitalizations.A slide presentation provided information on the coronavirus and whether the county is meeting trajectories Cooper has said are needed before the stay-at-home order can be lifted. The slides showed that:

  • Emergency room visits have fallen in Henderson County at both Pardee and AdventHealth. Visits hovered around 1,000 a week and have dropped to 400-600 a week.
  •  New cases are flattening in recent weeks, particularly outside longterm assisted living facilities.
  • The two hospitals admitted eight people with covid-19 since April 18. "What I think this chart really shows is that we're nowhere near overmatching our hospital's capability," Hawkins said.
  • The county has four contact tracers and plans to go up to eight, with a surge number of up to 35 tracers. Under goals Cooper has spelled out, the county would test 80 people per day.
  • EMS, Pardee and Advent all have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment. Has any EMS employee tested positive for covid? "To my knowledge we don't have anybody out," Wyatt said. "We would know that I think."



Covid 19 live update

County administrators, public health and emergency management officials also answered questions the public submitted during a livestream covid response update. Here are questions and answers:

How many people have recovered from covid-19?

Public Health Director Steve Smith said the 33 people in the general population have been diagnosed with the virus and 18 have recovered.

Why is there such a lack of testing available?

The number is getting larger as the county acquires more tests. So far the county has tested 1,780 people.

How long do results take?

The county is now using 25 providers and more than 12 labs, with a turnaround of 1-2 days.

What about antibody testing?

"Again the portal will be your health care provider" if you want that test, Smith said. Broad availability of antibody testing will likely follow diagnostic testing.

Has the county tested all patients, residents and staff in assisted living centers?

"We started asking for more tests and casting a larger net and we have found a significant portion of asymptomatic people that have tested positive," Smith said. He didn't say that all had been tested.

Of the cases associated with long-term care facilities, what percentage are staff?

"We have that by facility. We would just have to run that and get that for you and that's something we can do," County Manager Steve Wyatt said.

Are short-term rentals allowed through VRBO?

Yes, except no hotel, Airbnb or vacation rental by owner can rent to people from virus "hot spots" commissioners identified in an emergency order.