ASHE COUNTY — Ashe County’s active cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) is back in the double digits as the state numbers continue to rise.
As of presstime, there are 13 active cases in Ashe County, with a further 34 people being monitored.
AppHealthCare confirmed the first case in Ashe on April 3, and in the months that have followed the number has increased rapidly, with 54 total now confirmed for Ashe.
The Ashe numbers include one death, AppHealthCare announced Wednesday, May 26. As of presstime, it is the only death linked to COVID-19 in Ashe, Alleghany or Watauga counties, while six are currently hospitalized.
On July 7, there were 75,875 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, compared to 64,670 cases on June 30. This includes 1,420 dead, according to NCDHHS, an increase of 77 from the same time the previous week. This includes 96 confirmed cases in Watauga County, 54 active, and 36 in Alleghany County, with just five active, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in all counties across the state.
According to NCDHHS, which keeps an updating list of congregate setting outbreaks, a facility in Ashe on Old Highway 16 in Grassy Creek is the source of 15 resident cases. The facility is listed as “other,” meaning it is not a nursing home, residential care facility or correctional facility, but can be a homeless shelter, migrant farm worker housing facility or other location with a multitude of people living there. NCDHHS lists the outbreak as no longer being active.
Organizations from the international to the local level are encouraging people who feel sick or are symptomatic to stay home and receive medical treatment.
In a series of executive orders beginning March 14, Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools, limited the size of gatherings, instituted a stay-at-home order, shut down non-essential businesses, limited the capacity of businesses still in operation and barred dining in at restaurants.
Cooper began the reopening process with an executive order that took effect Friday, May 8.
Under Phase 1, most businesses can open, retail stores can open at 50 percent capacity, parks and trails are encouraged to reopen, close-contact businesses (such as gyms, salons and movie theaters) will remain closed, restaurants will continue to be open for takeout and delivery only, and gatherings are still limited to 10 people, but gathering outdoors with friends is allowed.
The state entered Phase 2 on May 22, opening up more possibilities for businesses. Restaurants offering dine-in options, personal care businesses (including salons and barbers) and public pools are all allowed to have a maximum 50 percent capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings.
Bars, indoor fitness facilities and indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters and bowling alleys are still to remain closed. Cooper vetoed H.B. 594 Friday, June 19, which would have allowed gyms, health clubs and fitness centers to re-open.
Cooper announced June 24 that due to the increasing numbers, Phase 2 would continue for three more weeks. People must wear face coverings when in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of six feet from other people who aren’t in the same household or residence isn’t possible. They will be required for all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agriculture settings.
There are exceptions including people with medical conditions and children younger than 11, people who are at home and people who are walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others, Cooper said.
Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22. The county was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.
An amendment to the county’s state of emergency declaration shortly after banned short-term rentals in the county, with the goal being a reduction in travel by non-residents. The amendment expired May 8, and was not extended.
The Ashe County Courthouse will remain open as usual, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office. The county also announced they would be limiting the number of visitors to 10 at a time.
The Ashe County Airport will remain open, but no public visitors are allowed. The landfill and convenience sites will remain open to the public.
West Jefferson Town Hall reopened Tuesday, June 2, following approval from the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen the night before.
At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. Jefferson Town Hall has since reopened.
According to Lansing Town Clerk Marcy Little, Lansing Town Hall has been closed. She added it is being recommended people do things over the phone at (336) 384-3938 or via the drop box located out front. The town also closed the public restrooms in the Lansing Creeper Trail Park.
Meanwhile, meetings of local government boards including different boards of aldermen and the Ashe County Board of Commissioners have seen their meetings canceled or changed to being electronic.
On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.
Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.
Margate announced they are limiting visitation, making exceptions for cases involving significant issues, emergencies and terminally ill residents.
Forest Ridge Assisted Living announced that all visitation has been restricted, at any Ridge Care Senior Living’s assisted living and memory care communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Exceptions to these restrictions will only be made for extenuating circumstances and must be approved and scheduled by each community’s executive director. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
The N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27. Grandfather Mountain announced it would reopen in a limited capacity May 15, with all ticket sales moving online.
Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.
These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.
The Ashe County Public Library re-opened Monday, June 15, with limited hours, services and building capacity. The Ashe County Public Library’s hours of operation will be Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The first hour of service each day is currently being reserved for people most at risk of dying from COVID-19.
The library will still be offering curbside pickup options and there will be no in-person programs or meetings. For more information about Ashe County Public Library, visit the website at www.arlibrary.org/ashe or call (336) 846-2041.
The Ashe County Arts Council re-opened the Arts Center Thursday, June 25, while also unveiling the new exhibit, “Shadow of the Hills.” The Arts Council announced June 16 that the Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention and the 2020 Ashe County Studio Tour were canceled. The Ashe County Little Theatre’s 2020 season has also been cancelled.
The Florence Thomas Art School announced it would be reopening June 2. The art school has announced plans for events, classes and workshops beginning in July.
Ashe County Parks and Recreation has suspended all sports leagues until further notice, refunds will be considered if leagues are eventually canceled. Ashe county Park reopened May 11, however all facilities including bathrooms, playgrounds, courts, skate park and shelters will remain closed.
In line with major sports leagues around the world, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced Thursday, March 12, it would suspend high school athletics until at least Monday, April 6. It was later decided to cancel the season entirely, following Cooper’s decision to cancel schools entirely April 24. The NCHSAA announced it would allow the start of summer activities on June 11. Ashe County High School Athletic Director David Koontz announced the school would begin off-season sessions July 6.
Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at email@example.com. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.
At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive.
Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, and have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside. Sheriff Phil Howell said the ACSO still wants people to know they are in the community.
According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.
Cooper declared April 24 that the spring semester would not resume, after one month of cancelled classes. Students were left to take classes only before the school year ended.
NCDHHS released health guidelines on June 8 as the first step to help North Carolina public schools find safe ways to open to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year. Schools are asked to plan for reopening under three scenarios — Plan A, which calls for minimal social distancing; Plan B, which calls for moderate social distancing; or Plan C, which would result in remote learning only.
NCDHHS and the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction will announce by July 1 which of the three plans should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen. The remaining plans may be needed if the state’s COVID-19 metrics change over time.
For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.
Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.
All hope was not lost for Fourth of July celebrations as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact daily life. The county made the tough decision to cancel the traditional fireworks show at Ashe County park this year, where many gather to celebrate the holiday with family and friends.
Although the park was closed, the community was still able to enjoy the county fireworks elsewhere and in several locations around the county.
The fireworks show was moved from the park to 368 Ray Hill Drive in West Jefferson, which made for an ideal spot for panoramic views of the fireworks from parking lots in West Jefferson and Jefferson. The location where the fireworks were set off was the ridge line between the water tank and cell tower in West Jefferson.
People who wanted to partake in viewing the fireworks were able to park in parking lots after 7 p.m. which included Ashe County High School, the Old Lowes Foods building, Walmart, Lowes Hardware, State Farm Insurance, Ashe Civic Center, Skybest Security on Mt. Jefferson Road, Skyline National Bank, Goodwill, Auto Zone, Steve Johnson Auto World, Lifestore Bank on Mt. Jefferson Road, Midway Baptist Church and along the Main Street in West Jefferson.
The community was invited to submit photos of how they celebrated the holiday to the Ashe Post & Times. Check out more pictures of the creative ways the community chose to celebrate this Fourth of July.
The Ashe County Chamber of Commerce announced Friday, July 3, that the Blue Ridge Brutal Bike Ride has been canceled for 2020.
The decision was made by members of the Brutal event committee after much deliberation and thought due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that the event would have on Ashe County.
The event was scheduled to be held Aug. 22. Sponsorship of the Ride was under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce for the first time this year.
It began in 1989 as a fundraiser for the Ashe Civic Center and the 102-, 72- and 56- mile ride has been a longtime favorite summer event.
“The Brutal brings cyclists from all across North Carolina and the southeast for the bike ride and in looking at the health and safety of cyclists, volunteers and the community, we felt it prudent to cancel this year’s event,” said Kitty Honeycutt, Ashe Chamber Executive Director. “Our priority is to keep our community safe and healthy.”
“It takes the entire county to pull off an event of this magnitude,” said Board President Andy Guion. “Business sponsors, rest stop sponsors, local and county government, Volunteer Fire Departments and EMS and numerous volunteers all work together throughout the year to make the event a success. We are appreciative of their support.”
Riders currently registered for the event have the option of receiving a full refund, rolling their registration over to 2021, or making a charitable contribution that will support the Ashe Advantage Scholarships and the Ashe Civic Center.
The projected date for next year’s Brutal is Aug. 21.
Additional information can be found on the Blue Ridge Brutal’s website blueridgebrutal.org or by calling the Chamber at (336) 846-9550.
JEFFERSON — Dr. Eisa Cox was sworn in as the new superintendent of Ashe County Schools at 8 a.m. on July 1.
Chairman C.B. Jones administered the oath of office to Cox while members of the Board of Education and her immediate family were present.