ASHE COUNTY — While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) had been trickling into Ashe County, the county has seen a spike, jumping up to 23 active cases, as of press time.

After the first case confirmed in the county by AppHealthCare April 3, the number of confirmed cases grew to five by April 29. In the three weeks that have followed, the number has gone up by nearly five times as many, with 28 total now confirmed for Ashe.

In a release to the public, AppHealthCare encouraged those who attended a funeral service operated by Boone Family Funeral Home or visited the establishment between March 19 through April 2 to contact public health staff by calling the AppHealthCare office in Ashe at (336) 246-9449 for an interview to determine whether or not guidance about the possible need for self-quarantine would be required.

As of Monday, May 18, there have been 188 COVID-19 tests done in Ashe, according to AppHealthCare. The organization added they are also monitoring 31 individuals in the county, as of press time.

On May 18, there were 19,445 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, with 682 dead, according to NCDHHS. This includes 11 confirmed cases in Watauga County, three active, and 12 in Alleghany County, with six active, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in all counties across the state, except for Avery.

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 order removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses. Retail businesses allowed to open at 50 percent capacity will be required to direct customers to stand six feet apart, perform frequent cleanings, provide hand sanitizer when available, screen workers for symptoms and more. The order allows people to leave their homes for commercial activity at any business that is open.

Government

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 government is closed to the public. Utility payments can still be made via the drop box located inside the first set of double doors at Town Hall using check, correct change or mail payments, and other business with the town, where possible, can be done by calling the town offices at (336) 246-3551 during normal business hours.

At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. As in West Jefferson, Jefferson Town Hall will continue to operate and fulfill its normal duties, and can be reached at (336) 846-9368.

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.

Healthcare

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.

Recreation and Entertainment

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 announced its plans to resumes limited public services on Tuesday, May 19. Initially, the building will still be closed to the public, but curbside delivery of library materials and printed items will be offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Ashe County Arts Council announced they have closed the Arts Center to the public. If anyone wishes a private viewing of the exhibit on display at the time, please contact the Arts Council at (336) 846-2787. The Arts Council has canceled all events in the foreseeable future, and are hoping to find dates to reschedule to. The Ashe County Little Theatre has postponed their next production, “Who’s On First?,” with no new date yet set.

The Florence Thomas Art School announced it would be closed through June 1. The annual Flapjack Breakfast Fundraiser, all classes and scheduled events have been postponed.

Ashe County Parks and Recreation has suspended all sports leagues until further notice, refunds will be considered if leagues are eventually canceled. At the same time, Ashe Park has been 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.

Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at kevinanderson@ashecountygov.com. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.

Emergency Services

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.

Education

While schools have been closed since March 16, Cooper declared April 24 that the spring semester would not resume. Students have been taking classes online, while school boards at every level have been working on what is next.

For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.

Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.

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