NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners officially declared a local state of emergency on Friday, March 20, in response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
The board passed the declaration in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus locally, of which there are three cases in Watauga County and more than 400 confirmed cases across the state.
The declaration reads, “COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can result in serious illness or death by the SARS-CoC-2 virus, which is a new strain of coronavirus previously unidentified in humans and which can spread from person to person. In response to the global spread of the virus and the disease it causes, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of the high public health threat posed by COVID-19 globally and in the United States and has deemed it necessary to prohibit and restrict travel to areas designated by the CDC; the United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary declared a public health emergency for COVID-19 in the United States; and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina as of March 10, 2020.”
The declaration continues, “In consultation with health care professionals and based upon guidance from CDC and NCDHHS, arrangements must be made immediately to take such actions as are deemed necessary and appropriate to insure that COVID-19 remains controlled and that residents and visitors in Avery County remain safe and secure.
“It is further declared that the Emergency Management Plan adopted by Avery County, and that all applicable mutual assistance compacts and agreements are in effect and shall remain in effect until the declaration expires or is rescinded.”
The declaration applies within and in cooperation of the municipalities in Avery County, including Banner Elk, Beech Mountain, Crossnore, Elk Park, Newland, Seven Devils, Village of Grandfather and the Village of Sugar Mountain.
Avery County marked the 83rd county in North Carolina to declare a state of emergency in conjunction with the state. The declaration opens additional resources for the county, including state and federal funding, in order to prevent and combat the spread of the virus.
“We’re assisting Watauga County, so by declaring it helps us get some reimbursement,” Avery County Fire Marshal Paul Buchanan said. “They’ve actually called us to send some personnel over. We helped them set up a tent at Watauga Medical Center that is going to be for drive-through testing.”
The declaration also allows the county to implement its Emergency Operations Plan and exercise ordinances that are grandfathered in through NC state statute that authorizes evacuations, curfews, restrictions on alcoholic beverages, weapons, dangerous substances, access to certain areas, movement of people, operations of businesses, offices and other places where people congregate and allows other activities necessary to maintain order.
“The emergency operations plan lets emergency management flow smoother with the state, and if we receive [resources] from the state, it allows us to receive with no questions asked,” Buchanan said. “This is kind of an extraordinary event, so in a typical event like a flooding, we would receive money for infrastructure and roads and stuff like that. If we use a lot of resources like using fire trucks for decontamination, then we would get a reimbursement.”
Buchanan says the county has declared a state of emergency several times in the past, using the declaration to respond to the hurricanes of 2004, the ice storm in 2009 and other flooding events.
“We’ve declared it more than people actually know of,” Buchanan said.
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier said the county will be updating the ordinance every five days as it sees fit and will be put in place as long as needed in order to respond to COVID-19.
“What I’m most proud of is that I think we’re doing our part to slow down the spread,” Barrier said.