To slow the viral transmission of COVID-19, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners restricted anyone living in Haywood County to stay at home and venture out only for essential activities.

The board passed a proclamation at the end of an emergency meeting Thursday, March 26, deciding the new rules would take place at 5 p.m. that same day, effective until at least until April 16.

The stay-at-home proclamation conforms to actions taken in counties across North Carolina, and in states around the nation, as a new coronavirus continues to spread a respiratory disease called COVID-19 worldwide.

“The last thing I want to be doing is doing this, but even more than the last thing I want to be doing is trying to figure out who’s going to get one of those 20 ventilators at the Haywood County hospital, because that’s all we’ve got,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. “The whole purpose is to prevent that, and this may be more than we need to do, but I would rather do more than do less and have to deal with that.”

Impact to daily life

Under the proclamation, leaving home is permitted for essential activities, including for health and safety, for necessary supplies and services, for outdoor activities, for certain types of work and to take care of others.

“You can still live your life — go to the grocery store, get your groceries, go to the pharmacy, pick up medications, visit healthcare facilities, go to the restaurants for takeout and drive-thru service,” said Commissioner Tommy Long. “It’s not really going to change a whole lot, given what we’re already doing.”

When people do leave their homes, they should comply with social distancing requirements that include staying at least 6 feet apart, the proclamation said.

Essential business, government

All non-essential business operations must cease, and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited by the proclamation.

Each of the 22 essential business categories defined in the proclamation are listed alongside this story, and those services are asked to adhere to minimum basic operations.

“Businesses may continue operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing activities at their own residences,” the proclamation said.

Essential government and infrastructure work is also permitted. Waste management, law enforcement and emergency services, public health and other government or infrastructure jobs will go on as necessary.

Extra sanitary measures are required of essential businesses, including designating 6-foot distances for employees and customers, making hand sanitizer and other sanitizing products available, creating separate operating hours for vulnerable populations and offering online remote access.

Traveling from outside Haywood

Traveling outside the county is permitted for essential business and government functions, and for the care of vulnerable people, or as required by law or for non-residents to return to their homes, the proclamation said.

Haywood residents returning home after a more than three-day absence from the county are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days, the proclamation said.

During the 14-day self-quarantine period, people should stay in their residence and follow the Centers for Disease Control guidance on home isolation.

Overnight lodging

All lodging facilities — anything from hotels to campgrounds to beds and breakfasts — with rentals or leases available for less than 15 days have been ordered to close, except for work-related accommodations.

“Current residents at hotels, motels, beds and breakfasts and other short-term rentals are permitted to stay,” the proclamation said. “But these facilities should cancel any leisure travel reservations for the duration of this declaration.”

Facilities housing the homeless or being used for quarantine purposes are exempt from the proclamation, and employees who work for essential businesses or organizations can stay in any lodging.

Non-resident visitors and property owners who are staying overnight as of March 26 are required by the proclamation to call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 828-356-2019 to list their stay.

“We’ve had people who have arrived here from New York, and we have advised them to quarantine for 14 days,” said Haywood Public Health Director Patrick Johnson. “We are notified about travelers from outside the United States by DHHS Raleigh, and we monitor them on a daily basis.”

From hand-washing to suppression

What began with the county issuing non-pharmaceutical intervention measures like hand-washing turned into social distancing, Johnson said. Now, suppression is the next step in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

“If we’re going to fight, we should fight hard,” Johnson said. “Time is what matters most right now. The Italy model is what we don’t want — they did nothing.”

While there are no confirmed cases in Haywood County, Johnson said he does believe cases exist, beyond the 89 who were tested as of Thursday, many of whom were still awaiting results.

“We have people traveling here, we’re going to have cases,” Johnson said. “You have one case, then you have community transmission if you’re not careful — one case equals two, two equals four, four equals 16.”

Johnson recommended at least two weeks of suppression to see how it works at curbing the inevitable arrival of COVID-19.

“When you do suppression, it’s painful for people, I understand that — this is going to be painful,” Johnson said. “The more you suppress right now, the less impact on disease and the healthcare system we are going to see.”

Attorney’s advisory

Haywood County Attorney Frank Queen advised caution to the commissioners as they were making their decision.

“Violation of the ordinance of this proclamation is a crime — class 2 misdemeanor, 60 days in jail, $1,000 fine,” Queen said. “The fact of the matter is that the ordinance is the power of the law brought on to the behavior of your citizens, so be careful when you impose the will of the state on people by ordinance.”

Queen said the purpose of such a proclamation is to make clear to the community what the social norm is during this state of emergency.

“There’s a whole lot of us — me one of them — who don’t like to be told what they should do,” Queen said. “What this ordinance does is articulate to us hardheads what our neighbors expect of us to reduce the spread of this, to slow it down so that our healthcare system can be ramped up to be able to fight the virus.”

In the same way other laws passed by the commissioners establish and enforce social norms, so too does the stay-at-home proclamation, Queen said.

“The virus is here, the virus is coming,” Queen said. “In Buncombe, in Jackson, in Transylvania — all the counties around us — they have cases. We’ve got cases, we just don’t know it yet.”

A dissenting voice

Karla Wood, a local attorney and U.S. Army veteran, said she dropped everything she was doing Thursday morning to address the commissioners with what she knew might be an unpopular opinion.

“While this may be futile, I actually believe in these times it’s hard perhaps to not do anything,” Wood said. “I would ask all of you not enact any further restrictions on your citizens.”

By enacting the proclamation, Wood said the commissioners would turn neighbors against each other, and turn neighbors into criminals.

“The Constitution is pretty important to me,” Wood said, citing her military and attorney oaths. “I see this inroad as extremely invasive of our personal freedoms and rights, I also believe that this is the wrong way to act.”

The commissioners expressed thanks for Wood’s comments, and Vice Chairman Brandon Rogers said at the end of the meeting that he agreed with much of what she said.

“I’m a big believer in our rights and freedoms myself, and that’s made this decision tough on me,” Rogers said. “It’s been a struggle for me, but on the same hand I understand this is something we need to do to protect our citizens and county — and it is temporary.”

Further amendments possible

Because the county previously declared a state of emergency, Haywood County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Ensley has the power to extend or otherwise amend the provisions in the proclamation without calling a public meeting, Queen said.

Thursday’s meeting was called in the interest of government transparency.

The Mountaineer will continue to provide coronavirus updates as the situation develops.

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