COVID-19 News Update: 8/14/20

August 14, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 8/14/20. 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: 1,982
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 1,588
  • Total deaths: 52

North Carolina as a whole 

  • Positive cases: 140,0824
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 122,148
  • Total deaths: 2,287

North Carolina reports  COVID testing overcount error

 North Carolina overcounted its tally of completed coronavirus tests by 200,000 since the start of the pandemic, state officials announced Aug. 12, blaming most of the error on a processing lab. The error doesn’t affect key measures such as the percentage of positive test results, they said.

Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, pinned the brunt of the blame on LabCorp Diagnostics for providing North Carolina with two different daily testing count numbers when the clinical lab network submitted the data electronically and manually.

“The positive cases are reported electronically,” Cohen said in an interview. “Those continue to be accurate. The number that we are correcting today is just the total cumulative lab tests.”

Cohen said the health department discovered the error in the completed test count when reviewing ways to improve the state’s data collection process and ongoing efforts to transition to a more automated counting system.

Buncombe County decides against 9 p.m. alcohol curfew

Public health officials have recommend the county stay aligned with the state in an 11 p.m. cutoff on liquor sales at restaurants rather than implementing its own, earlier booze curfew. The task force — consisting of members of Public Health, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Asheville Police Department, city fire marshals and Alcohol Law Enforcement — was established last week to spot-check for adherence to local and state safety protocols.

The task force had originally planned to put a 9 p.m. curfew on liquor sales at local restaurants — something that was recommended by health officials as a mitigation strategy to address “trouble spots” in the local spread of COVID-19.

In a county commissioners’ meeting Aug. 4, Tove voiced concerns about restaurants that were essentially operating as bars late at night and flagrantly ignoring guidelines on capacity, social distancing and face coverings.

He suggested the county address the problem by halting restaurant liquor sales at an earlier time than the state.

The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association responded the next day in a letter to commissioners outlining their concerns with a curfew, which would cut an important revenue stream for local businesses already struggling with an avalanche of precautionary measures.

Officials decided to gauge the effectiveness of tamping down through law enforcement, instead. If there was still widespread disregard for public safety policies after a week, they said they might move forward with the new restriction.

North Carolina to direct $95.6 million to support students impacted by COVID-19

Governor Roy Cooper directed $95.6 million in new funding to help support K-12 and postsecondary students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who can benefit from support during the upcoming school year. The funding is North Carolina’s share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, a part of the federal CARES Act. The GEER funds are intended to provide emergency support to school districts, postsecondary institutions, or other education-related entities for addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Governor is directing the following investments to support K-12 students across North Carolina:

  • $40 million to the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists in our public schools.
  • $20 million to the State Board of Education and DPI to support the academic needs of at-risk students and students with disabilities through additional in-school supports, such as after-school programming, tutoring, or hiring more teachers or teacher assistants.

In addition to funds for K-12 schools, the Governor is also directing the following investments to support students in postsecondary institutions across North Carolina:

  • $15 million to the NC Community College System to provide tuition assistance to students enrolled in short-term workforce training programs leading to a state or industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field.
  • $6 million to the UNC System for institutions to provide emergency assistance to North Carolina students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.
  • $4 million to the State Education Assistance Authority for independent colleges and universities to provide emergency assistance to North Carolina students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.
  • $566,000 to the UNC System for the NC School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts, each of which received limited to no federal higher education funding from the CARES Act because of the size of their high school student populations.

Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools provide clarity on what happens if students or faculty test positive

BCS and ACS are both set to begin the fall semester Aug. 17, with BCS returning under Plan B Beyond, a primarily remote model that includes some in-person orientation, and ACS returning under fully remote Plan C.

Buncombe health director Stacie Saunders stressed that every response to a case of COVID-19 “will be based on the unique circumstances of that occurrence of the virus, and there is no single response to all cases that occur in school settings.”

In general, if there is a positive case in a student or school staff member, the school will notify Buncombe County Department Health and Human Services, in accordance with state law, and the county’s communicable disease staff and school nurses will work to identify the details of the exposure.

“Public Health will begin a case investigation, including identifying onset of symptoms and when the positive test result occurred, and will work with the student, the family and staff to identify close contacts, which means those within 6 feet for a period of 15 minutes or longer,” Saunders said. School and health officials will work together to craft a communication to share with those close contacts, instructing them to self-quarantine until they can get tested for COVID-19.

The school will send a more widespread notification to families and staff members if an outbreak of the illness — which they are defining as five or more cases — occurs at an individual school.

Applications for NC Job Retention Grant program are now open; due September 1st

If your business or non-profit organization experienced interruption due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the new Job Retention Grant (JRG) Program may be able to offer assistance. State lawmakers provided $15 million for the grants being awarded by Commerce. The funding is part of a much larger $500 million coronavirus relief measure signed by the governor July 1.

NC Dept. of Commerce is accepting applications through Tuesday, September 1, 2020 at 11:59pm.  No grants will be awarded before the September 1 deadline, and the potential amount of each grant will not be determined until all applications have been reviewed and awarded.

Apply here