COVID-19 News Update: 7/24/20

July 24, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 7/24/20. See our Coronavirus Resource Guide for extensive resources and information.

North Carolina delivers PPE for agricultural workers

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services  is taking further action to prevent and respond to COVID-19 outbreaks among the agricultural workforce, delivering critical personal protection equipment for use by agricultural workers across the state.

Farmworkers are deemed an essential workforce and it is imperative that people who cultivate and harvest North Carolina’s wide variety of crops are protected. To support prevention efforts that are proven to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, NCDHHS is implementing its plan this week to deliver over 900,000 masks and other infection control supplies to North Carolina Cooperative Extension county centers across the state for distribution to farms and agricultural operations. In addition to masks, the deliveries included hand sanitizer and cloth face coverings for workers to take home.

This initiative builds on earlier measures North Carolina has taken with state and local partners to protect the agricultural workforce.  31 counties have been selected to receive supplies first (Buncombe County is not among them).

State-run free testing sites expanded in under-served communities

Governor Roy Cooper announced that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has approved a third vendor, NC Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA), to expand free COVID-19 testing to historically marginalized communities that currently have limited testing sites. So far, Vidant Health and Orig3n, Inc. have coordinated more than 60 testing events through this initiative.

Under this new contract, NCCHCA will provide testing in 23 ZIP codes as part of NCDHHS’ effort to increase access to no-cost COVID-19 testing for African American, Latinx/Hispanic and American Indian communities. As many as 300 temporary testing events will be deployed by the vendors throughout the month of July, including drive-thru and walk-up sites in more than 130 ZIP codes.

A disproportionately high percentage of North Carolina’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred among historically marginalized populations. Mounting evidence shows the members of these populations experience higher rates of COVID-19 mortality and serious complications.

In order to effectively reach underserved populations, NCDHHS is emphasizing a community testing approach.

Asheville City Schools to switch to remote learning for first 9 weeks of the semester

The Asheville City School District is changing course on next year. The district decided in-person classes will not resume next month, which means that students will continue remote learning under Plan C for at least the first 9 weeks of the semester.

ACS had originally planned to have K-sixth grades return to school on a rotating basis, with half meeting in-person one week while the other half learns remotely. Every week, the two groups would switch. Seventh-12th grades were set to complete all work remotely.

However, after a survey staff members, ACS has changed its mind.

The Asheville City Association of Educators recently asked 276 staff members to share their thoughts on reopening. One in 6 had a health concern that could prevent them from returning. Another 1 in 6 said they would talk to their physicians before coming to school. Around half of respondents said they had their own school-age children, and most did not know how they would care for them during the day.

In addition, over 150 ACS K-sixth grade teachers signed a petition presented to the school board Thursday which said they would not return to work under Plan B.

Additional information, including a schedule for Plan C and virtual registration will be released next week. The first day of school is still set for August 17.

New funding grants available for artists affected by COVID-19

The North Carolina Arts Council understands the important role artists contribute to the vitality, unity and resiliency of our communities. The Arts Council has established the North Carolina Arts Council Artist Support Grant (ASG) as a one-year regional grant program to support individual artists during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will fund professional and artistic development for emerging or established artists to create work, improve their business operations, or bring their work to new audiences.

The program builds on the success of the North Carolina Arts Council’s Regional Artist Project Grant program where regional consortiums of arts councils collaborated to distribute more than $2 million to artists over 30 years. The Artist Support Grant program expands the number of regional consortiums from 13 to 18 to ensure a more equitable disbursement of funds to artists in rural and urban areas across the state.

Artists in all disciplines are eligible to apply for grants to support their professional and artistic development through a partnership of the North Carolina Arts Council and Asheville Area Arts Council, Haywood County Arts Council, Arts Council of Henderson County, Tryon Fine Arts Center, Rutherford County Recreation, Cultural, and Heritage Commission, and the Transylvania Community Arts Council.

Artist Support Grants will be distributed to eligible applicants by Haywood County Arts Council in the following counties: Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, and Transylvania.

Applications are due on September 14th.

Positive cases in North Carolina and Buncombe County continue to climb

More than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported by North Carolina on July 24, and an additional 20 people died because of the disease. NCDHHS reported Friday that a total of 1,746 people have died statewide as a result of COVID-19. That’s an increase of 20 over Thursday.

In total, there are 108,995 positive cases in the state, which is an increase in 2,102 from the previous day. The state record for the largest one-day increase is 2,481. That record was set on July 13th.

As of about noon Thursday, Buncombe County reported on its coronavirus dashboard that there were 1,139 cases in the county, up 27 from the previous day. However, the state reported Friday that Buncombe had 1,344 cases, up 52 from the previous day’s state count. The county has said that its dashboard would lag behind the state’s tally. The number of COVID-19 related deaths in the county was 43, according to its dashboard.

Buncombe County community testing cut

A popular COVID-19 community testing program meant to help the uninsured will be stopped just as infections are accelerating in Buncombe County.

County Health and Human Services made the announcement late July 22, saying a local nonprofit health clinic, which had been providing much of the on-the-ground support, was overwhelmed and was dropping out of the testing program.

County Manager Avril Pinder has pledged to maintain testing, saying the commissioners, to whom she reports, supported it. Officials did not say what additional costs would be.