North Carolina as a whole
North Carolina will ease cautiously some restrictions while continuing safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 as the state’s metrics remained stable in September, Governor Roy Cooper announced.
“Our top priority remains getting children back to in-person learning. This month marks a major shift for many families now and in the coming months as schools open their doors, some for the first time since the pandemic,” said Governor Cooper. “The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically, and responsibly.”
“We must continue our hard work to slow the spread of this virus,” said Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “By practicing the 3Ws — wear, wait and wash, — getting your flu shot, and downloading the SlowCOVIDNC app, each of us can protect the progress we have made.”
As COVID-19 metrics and capacity remain stable, the state will ease some restrictions starting Friday. Executive Order 169 begins Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. and continues for three weeks through October 23. Its new provisions include:
State and public health officials will continue watching the key COVID-19 trends over the next several weeks to determine if any further restrictions can be eased when the current Executive Order expires October 23.
As of Oct. 2, the county has seen 3,154 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 of Buncombe residents. A total of 85 residents have died in the pandemic.
There have been over 75,000 tests administered. The positivity rate is at 3%, a slight uptick from 2.3% last week. Positivity rate is often used to gauge when it is safe to reopen, with 5% or below deemed safe.
There are about 21-22 new cases each day among county residents. While both the infection rate and the number of daily new cases are up from last week, they represent decreases from spiking numbers in July.
County Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said it will be important in the coming weeks for residents not to let their guards down.
“As more restrictions are lifted, there are more opportunities for exposure and this makes it extremely important for continued commitment to the 3Ws,” Saunders said in the release. “This is our best defense to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Remember to wear a face covering, wash your hands and stay 6 feet apart.”
North Carolina minority and women-owned businesses hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic will have access to guidance and $12 million in grants to help them weather the crisis, Governor Roy Cooper announced. The North Carolina Department of Administration has launched a new grant program, RETOOLNC, to help North Carolina Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms impacted by COVID-19.
Additional resources for small businesses impacted by the pandemic are available through the NC Department of Commerce. For example, businesses that experienced extraordinary disruption and were unable to open due to COVID-19 may be able to get assistance through the Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief (MURR) Program at www.nccommerce.com/murr. Experienced business counselors at Business Link North Carolina are also available to offer guidance at (800) 228-8443.
The state’s Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses, in partnership with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF) and the North Carolina Institute for Minority Economic Development (the Institute), will offer guidance on business development through the RETOOLNC program and administer $12 million in funding to assist in the economic recovery of state-certified minority and women-owned businesses.
“HUBs are significant to our state’s economy as they bring not only diverse and inclusive entrepreneurship but innovative solutions that help our communities thrive,” said NC Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders. “Due to COVID-19, many HUB firms are at risk of closing permanently. The RETOOLNC program seeks to alter the current trajectory, offering resources to keep the doors of minority and women-owned businesses open.”
Since the onset of COVID-19, many minority- and women-owned businesses have closed nationwide. According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Black-owned businesses are down 41 percent, Latinx-businesses have declined 32 percent, Asian-owned businesses are down 26 percent, and women-owned businesses have declined 25 percent.
Access to capital remains the number one challenge for small businesses. Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, RETOOLNC will provide eligible HUB and DBE firms an opportunity to receive up to $25,000 in grant funding – funding that HUB Office Director Tammie Hall says will help offset the costs that most HUB firms will face to alter services to meet industry needs. Learn more here.
Public comment on a grant application for up to $900,000 in federal coronavirus relief identified individual housing and utility assistance as Buncombe’s greatest need, according to a county staff presentation. The Board of Commissioners is set to vote on a plan that would direct the aid toward that purpose at its regular meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 6. While the county would request $900,000 in aid, just under $815,000 would be made available for housing and utility payments. Running the program would eat up more than $60,000, while financial management of the grant itself would account for $25,000.
Despite this overhead, the grant would still represent the largest funding source yet made directly available to Buncombe residents who need help with bills due to COVID-19’s economic fallout. By comparison, the joint public-private One Buncombe Fund had distributed just over $453,000 in emergency assistance to county households as of Aug. 18.
If Buncombe were to receive the grant, funds would likely not be available to assist residents until January due to multiple levels of required governmental review.
Further public comment will also be accepted on the plan during the Oct. 6 meeting; those interested in commenting must register online by Monday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m. Comments can also be sent to Rachael Nygaard, the county’s director of strategic partnerships, by phone at 828-250-6536 or email at Rachael.Nygaard@buncombecounty.org.