ASHE COUNTY — As concerns over the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic continue, Ashe County officials say they are working to the flatten the curve and slow the spread of disease. This has led to the shuttering of schools, shops and closure of much of the the business community in the High Country.

As of Tuesday, March 31, there have been 25 COVID-19 tests done in Ashe, none have come back positive, according to AppHealthCare.

At the same time, there were 1,498 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, according to NC DHHS. This includes five cases in Watauga County, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in 77 counties across the state.

The number of positive cases statewide has rapidly increased since the first confirmed case in Wake County on March 3, reaching 1,300 by March 30.

Organizations from the international to the local level are encouraging people who feel sick or are symptomatic to stay home and receive medical treatment.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order March 14, mandating the cancelation of events of 100 people or more, because, he said, venues were not heeding guidance recommending this. Cooper later ordered March 17 the barring of dine-in options for restaurants. Takeout and delivery orders will continue.

On Monday, March 23, Cooper announced more mandated closures including gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair and nail salons, barbershops and massage therapists beginning Wednesday, March 25. In the same order, Copper barred any gatherings of more than 50 people.

Friday, March 27, Cooper issued a stay-at-home directive ordering citizens to avoid contact and slow the spread. The executive order forces the closure of businesses deemed non-essential, while essential business such as food stores, healthcare offices and home improvement stores will be allowed to stay open. The order can be read HERE.

Government

Ashe County declared a state of emergency Sunday, 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 March 22 banned short-term rentals in the county, with the goal being a reduction in travel by non-residents. The town of Jefferson however, will not be banning short-term rentals in town limits.

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.

North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced in a press conference Friday, March 13, they are recommending all cases at the District and Superior Court levels be continued for at least one month. Beasley said it is in the public’s best interest to reduce large gatherings, and this was how the court system can support that.

The Ashe County Airport will remain open, but no public visitors are allowed. The landfill and convenience sites will remain open to the public.

A full list of county office closures and procedural changes can be found HERE.

The Town of West Jefferson announced March 16 it would be closing Town Hall to the public from March 17-31. 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. The West Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 6, was officially postponed on March 30.

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.

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.

Joel Yates DDS, Amato Dentistry and Mountain Dental announced they would be closing for two weeks, following a recommendation from the N.C. State Board of Dental Examiners March 18.

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.

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 has closed for the foreseeable future, announcing March 28 that curbside pick-up options would also be shut down.

The Ashe County Arts Council announced they have closed the Arts Center to the public. The “Young at Art” exhibit will be on display at the Gallery of the Ashe Arts Center until April 27. If anyone wishes a private viewing 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 March 17 it will be closed until April 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 will remain open, with extra cleaning measures put in place and visitors being encouraged to practice social distancing.

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. The NCHSAA later extended the suspension until May 18.

Family Central’s park office will be 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.

MerleFest 2020 was canceled Friday, March 13, a decision made in collaboration with the town of Wilkesboro. Additional information can be found at www.merlefest.org/merlefest-2020-cancelled/ or by contacting Wilkes Community College organizers at merlefest@wilkescc.edu or by phone at (800) 343-7857.

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. With the exception of attorney-client meetings, all visitations at the jail are done via video call.

Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, asking for pictures to be sent and reports over the phone as a way to cut down on potential infection. Officers have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside.

According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.

Education

Schools across the state at every level are shut down, following the executive order from Cooper. All public, K-12 schools are closed for in-person instruction until May 15.

Before Cooper’s order, the University of North Carolina system had already begun closing colleges around the state, transitioning to an online-based curriculum.

Ashe Post & Times will continue to provide updates on this story as they are made available.

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

Bailey Little and Thomas Sherill contributed reporting to this story.

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