COVID-19 News Update: 10/16/20

October 16, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 10/16/20. See our Coronavirus Resource Guide for extensive resources and information. 

Here are the COVID-19 stats for Buncombe County and North Carolina

Buncombe County 

  • Positive cases: 3,598
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 3,417

North Carolina as a whole 

  • Positive cases: 238,939
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 227,431

Governor Cooper Announces Applications Open for New Rent and Utility Assistance Program

Governor Roy Cooper announced today that applications are now being accepted for the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program, which will assist eligible low- and- moderate-income renters experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. The new program seeks to promote housing stability during the ongoing pandemic by providing rent and utility assistance to prevent evictions and utility disconnections.

“The spread of coronavirus has affected every aspect of our lives. Many have lost jobs, had work hours cut back or had to care for someone who has become ill with COVID-19,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “By creating this program to help with rent and utility bills, we can keep people in their homes where they will be safest during this pandemic.”

The HOPE Program is funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant−Coronavirus funds and U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus Relief funds, which have been provided to North Carolina. The funds are administered by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, a division of the Department of Public Safety, and will be distributed through community partner agencies across the state.

Renters can apply for utility assistance, rent assistance or both programs. Rent assistance is paid to the landlord on behalf of the applicant. This includes overdue and future rent payments, for up to six months. At least one month’s rent must be overdue at the time of application.

Utility payments will be made directly to the utility provider for up to six months of past due essential utilities, such as electricity, water, sewer/wastewater, natural gas and propane. For more information about the HOPE Program, visit

COVID cases in WNC continue to rise

Restrictions are easing, Halloween is on the way and COVID-19 case numbers are increasing as Western North Carolina heads into cooler weather that traditionally brings an increase in respiratory illnesses, local health officials are warning.

At Mission Health, a steady decline from the early part of August and into September has turned into a steady increase over the last month, said Dr. William Hathaway, chief medical officer for Mission Health and HCA Healthcare North Carolina Division.  In September, hospitalizations dropped to 20 or so patients on any given day before the recent increase, he said, adding that there are lots of explanations to why cases are back on the rise. Hospitalizations had been in the 40s and even into the 50s before they started dropping in August.

It has also been two weeks since Gov. Roy Cooper implemented Phase 3 in the state, easing restrictions on some meeting spaces, gaming establishments, outdoor facilities, movie theaters and more. Schools are also getting back to in-person learning. With that planned and intentional increase in mobility comes an increase in transmission, Hathaway said.   And while the numbers are up, Hathaway says Mission and other local hospitals he’s in contact with remain well within their capacity and capability to handle the COVID-19 cases and testing.

North Carolina hits new peak in COVID transmissions

Gov. Roy Cooper’s message at an Oct. 15 press conference was loud and clear: COVID-19 is getting worse. And North Carolina residents need to step up and do their part to slow the viral spread. The 2,532 new COVID-19 cases reported Oct. 15 marked the state’s highest one-day increase since the pandemic began in March, Cooper said. The previous greatest increase occurred July 18 with 2,486 new cases.

The four metrics North Carolina uses to track viral spread are all increasing, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. Sufficient hospital capacity remains for COVID-19 patients, she emphasized, but smaller hospitals are starting to feel the strain — just as flu season sets in. North Carolina’s first flu-related death for the 2020-21 season was reported on Oct. 15.

The state’s current Phase 3 executive order is set to expire on Friday, Oct. 23. Health officials will continue to monitor coronavirus data and decide on next steps early next week, Cooper said.  No one wants to go backwards in the reopening process, Cohen emphasized. But if more restrictions become necessary to slow viral spread, high-risk indoor activities will be the first to go.

Plans for vaccine distribution expected this week

NCDHHS officials expect to submit a plan for statewide distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Oct. 16. Acknowledging that initial supplies of any vaccine will be limited, Cohen said, the current strategy is to prioritize frontline workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

Clinical trials are underway for 45 COVID-19 vaccines; in North Carolina, researchers with UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, the Cape Fear Valley Health Care System, the Carolina Institute for Clinical Health and Wake Forest Research of Raleigh are all participating in late-stage trials of the Moderna vaccine.

On Oct. 12, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson paused its vaccine trial, a move Cohen finds reassuring. “This shows us that the process is working,” she said. “This means they are really looking to make sure that all of the vaccines that come out of these trials that will go for FDA approval are safe and effective.”

UNC Asheville police officer dies from COVID-19 complications

UNC Asheville officials shared the sad news Thursday, Oct. 15, with its community that one of its beloved campus police officers, Officer James Hamilton, passed away Wednesday from complications related to COVID-19.

“It is with deep sorrow and heartache that I share the sad news. Officer Hamilton was a beloved member of the UNC Asheville community,” UNCA Chancellor Nancy Cable wrote in a letter to campus Thursday. “He was a well-known presence at our Bulldog athletic events and other events on campus and was very involved in his local community including serving as Spindale town commissioner. Our hearts go out to Officer Hamilton’s family and loved ones.”

Hamilton’s last day on campus was Oct. 6 and Cable said there was no indication that he contracted the coronavirus on campus. Contact tracing was conducted and individuals who were in contact with Officer Hamilton were notified.

Kamala Harris cancels Asheville visit following possible COVID exposure

A scheduled visit from Sen. Kamala Harris to Asheville on Oct. 15 as in-person early voting kicks off was canceled, campaign staff said shortly before Harris was set to arrive at the Asheville Regional Airport.

The campaign later issued a statement saying the cancellation was due to two positive COVID test results among Harris’ campaign staff and flight crew.

“Late on the night of Wednesday, October 14th, we learned that two individuals involved in the campaign tested positive for COVID-19,” according to a statement by Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon. “A non-staff flight crew member and Liz Allen, communications director to Senator Harris.

“Senator Harris was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests; as such, there is no requirement for quarantine,” the statement said.