COVID-19 News Update: 9/11/20

September 11, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 9/11/20. 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: 2,703
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 2,590

North Carolina as a whole 

  • Positive cases: 182,286
  • Last week’s number of positive cases: 174,254

Election Services Update

Buncombe County voters now have an additional method to return their absentee ballot to the Board of Elections. A new drop off area has been designated in the Board of Elections parking lot where voters can safely return absentee ballots. Simply follow the signs to the side of the building and an absentee specialist will come out to your vehicle to assist. Absentee ballots began going out to registered voters on September 4. If you would like to request a ballot, click here to submit a request online. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and response, the North Carolina State Board of Elections is reminding North Carolinians that all voters can vote by mail during every election, casting a ballot without leaving the comfort of home.

Governor Cooper announces nearly $40 million to connect students and communities to high-speed Internet to help with remote learning

Today, Governor Roy Cooper announced nearly $40 million in funding for NC Student Connect, a new partnership created to address internet connectivity gaps that are a barrier to remote learning for many North Carolina students. When school resumed in August, superintendents estimated that at least 100,000 students still lacked a reliable internet connection at home.

Many North Carolina students are currently attending school remotely and need reliable internet access to be able to connect with their teachers and access their lessons. Students who are attending school onsite may also need internet access at home to be able to complete assignments.

NC Student Connect investment includes:

  • $30 million to distribute 100,000 wireless high speed hot spots for students to connect with their remote learning classes.
  • $8 million to create accessible sites in convenient locations across the state such as school parking lots, municipal areas, and state parks, museums and historic sites. These NC Student Connect sites will provide free high-speed internet for students to connect to the Internet to download lessons and complete assignments offline.
  • $2 million for educator professional development, parent training and student involvement in a spectrum of activities that go into effective remote learning. More than 1,300 educators from rural North Carolina already participated in a virtual conference focused on remote learning to help them be better prepared to teach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about that conference.

NC Student Connect is a partnership across state government including the Department of Information Technology (DIT), the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR), Governor Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative and the NC Business Committee for Education (NCBCE), an educational nonprofit in the Governor’s Office. These and other agencies have already worked to build partnerships to help leverage public investments to increase internet access in underserved communities. Purchasing began before Labor Day and thousands of hot spots will be shipped to school systems this week and will continue throughout the month.

Learn more

North Carolina surpasses 3,000 COVID-related deaths

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported on Friday that another 33 people died statewide of complications from coronavirus, bringing North Carolina’s death toll in the pandemic to 3,023.

Since March, more than 180,000 people statewide have tested positive for the virus, but most of them, 156,652, have recovered.

Despite the state reporting some of the lowest COVID-19 case counts in the Southeast, the White House Coronavirus Task Force continues to place North Carolina in the “red zone.” That designation, explained N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen at an Aug. 10 press conference, means state health officials reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

Cohen said that she and Gov. Roy Cooper had met with Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s head, on Sept. 9 to discuss the spread of COVID-19.

Buncombe County Schools to return to in-person learning for remainder of semester

Buncombe County students will return to in-person instruction Sept. 28 under an A/B hybrid learning model that will continue through the rest of the semester. The BCS board of education approved the plan in a 5-2 vote Sept. 10 during a meeting that spanned just over three and a half hours.

Before a lengthy and at times confusing debate among board members, 12 parents and teachers spoke in public comment, urging board members to allow students to return to in-person instruction, saying that they needed interaction with peers and a more structured educational environment.

Under the approved plan, about 60% of BCS students in kindergarten through 12th grade and the district’s early college students will enter a rotating schedule at the end of the month, with two days of in-person instruction and three days of at-home work each week.The remaining 40% opted for remote-only instruction for the entire semester and will continue under that plan.

The weekly schedule will be as follows:

  • K-12 and early college students in Group A will attend class on Monday and Tuesday.
  • K-12 and early college students in Group B will attend class on Thursday and Friday.
  • Wednesday will be a remote, independent learning day allowing time for deep cleaning of school buildings.

ACS is expected to make a decision about the second nine weeks of the semester during the school board’s Oct. 5 meeting.

Buncombe County metrics improve; health officials warn of Labor Day uptick

Public health director Stacie Saunders said in a Sept. 10 briefing that the percentage of tests coming back positive has been trending down in Buncombe over the past few weeks and is now at 3%. Positive tests were averaging 4.5-5% for several weeks prior.

Just under 20 new cases of COVID-19 are being reported in the county each day, according to Saunders. That number peaked at an average of 40 in July.

Saunders added that, following Labor Day weekend celebrations, Buncombe may see an uptick in new cases of the illness — something that occurred after this year’s Memorial Day and July 4 weekends.

“Anytime folks are gathering, we want them to practice the precautions,” Saunders reiterated. “That is our best defense right now, that as folks are gathering and sharing space with each other that they remember to wear their masks, to wash their hands often and to stay 6 feet apart.”