By Nathan Ham
The Boone Town Council has taken county and state reopening restrictions a few steps further. In a 3-1 vote on Thursday evening, the council approved new restrictions that ban visitors arriving in Boone from entering public establishments (other than medical facilities) unless they have quarantined in Boone for 14 consecutive days. Nancy LaPlaca voted against the restrictions and Loretta Clawson was unable to attend the meeting to vote due to an illness.
This measure does not apply to non-residents that are commuting to work in Boone and to state and local government facilities.
These new restrictions will remain in effect until at least June 16 and are aimed at visitors and tourists making day-trips to Boone as well as seasonable residents arriving at their mountain homes for the summer.
Councilmember Sam Furgiuele has spearheaded the movement to add additional restrictions to Governor Roy Cooper’s phased reopening plans and the guidance approved by the Watauga County Commissioners. Furgiuele proposed similar restrictions at the May 7 council meeting that also included limiting businesses to allowing just 25 percent of their occupancy to be in the building and had originally planned for these restrictions to be in place “until further notice or until a vaccine had been approved.”
Some of those additional restrictions were included in Thursday’s vote, including all employees at businesses within the town limits must wear masks unless the employee has a medical condition preventing that, all aisles in retail stores must be designated as one-way and restaurants can only use disposable menus or menus that are disinfected between each use. Those restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
While it will be tough to enforce these regulations, violating any of these restrictions will be punishable by a class 2 misdemeanor, and warning citations will be given on first offenses.
Boone Chamber of Commerce President/CEO David Jackson issued the following statement in regards to yesterday’s council vote:
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors strongly disagrees with the action taken by the Boone Town Council Thursday night in adopting their State of Emergency Declaration.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce has advocated strongly from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, through the #KeepBooneHealthy initiative, for people to follow the health and safety guidelines promoted by the CDC and AppHealthCare, while also encouraging residents to make as many local purchase decisions as possible to support our struggling business community.
In our public comments Thursday night, we advocated the need for a strong, cohesive, and united communication plan for all municipalities in Watauga County to follow, and positively promote the safety measures that have been implemented to protect local residents while also communicating the actions we strongly recommend people take when interacting with our community from outside our borders. This promotes the solidarity in our messaging, around consistent health and safety guidelines that have been implemented by AppHealthCare.
Instead, the Boone Town Council’s action has caused great confusion and public backlash at a time when the State of North Carolina is also implementing new guidelines as they move into the Phase 2 Safer-At-Home order. We now face irreparable harm to the reputation of our business community and to the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.
We continue to support the guidance of AppHealthCare as the trusted voice of local public health concerns in our community. We feel the health guidelines outlined in the Town of Boone’s State of Emergency Declaration fall largely in place with those recommendations, or other State or industry guidance that applies to individual businesses. In fact, many businesses within the Town of Boone are already in compliance with most or all of this guidance.
Where the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce continues to disagree with Town Council centers around the language in section 4-i in the Definitions of the State of Emergency, which restricts visitors from entering our community.
- i. Except for commuters who regularly work in Watauga County, all persons (residents and non-residents) arriving in the Town of Boone who previously overnighted outside Watauga County, whether such persons are visiting the Town for the day or staying overnight, are not permitted to enter any establishment open to the public other than medical offices and medical facilities unless and until such time as they have stayed in Watauga County for an uninterrupted overnight stay of at least 14 days; provided, however, that this subsection does not apply to a person who is confirmed pursuant to current testing guidelines issued by the CDC or NCDHHS not to be infected with COVID-19; This subsection (i) shall expire June 16, 2020 unless extended by action of Town Council;
The Board of Directors unanimously and unequivocally agree that your actions go too far. At a time where businesses across our county, region, and State are seeing restrictions removed, this action will maintain a heavy burden of business loss on a community that’s already been deeply impacted by the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, this component has introduced a flood of unnecessary confusion about how local residents and visitors can realistically interact with our community.
We would have liked to have seen a more positive attempt at communicating a united community message, through trusted public health partners and community leaders, rather than this guidance coming off as regulatory and against the recommendations of local health officials. The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce stands ready to continue its role as a strong community voice in presenting a unified message that prioritizes the health and safety of all who interact with our community. We hope the Boone Town Council reconsiders their position and chooses to lead in a more proactive manner without creating unnecessary divisions in our community.
This area has been known as a welcoming community by generations of local residents and travelers alike. The businesses in this community have promoted the very best positive attributes of what Watauga County stands for, and given the opportunity, they will work in concert with local health officials to ensure the safety of their employees, local residents, and customers.
Blowing Rock Town Council Decides to Follow County Commissioners and Gov. Cooper’s Recommendations
On Thursday, the Blowing Rock Town Council met to determine their next step in reopening the town. The council approved following the recommendations of the Watauga County Commissioners and Gov. Cooper’s phased plan. Restaurants can reopen their dining room at a 50 percent capacity as of 5 p.m. this evening and all hotels and short-term rentals can resume also at a 50 percent capacity.
“We feel like when the governor has the professionals that he has working from the state level, you follow the governor’s guidelines,” said Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers.
The town council did decide to cancel its 4th of July parade but did not make a final decision on having a fireworks display. Blowing Rock is also looking into how long it will take to open the pool. Right now, according to Mayor sellers, it is looking like it will be the end of June because finding employees is the hardest part.
“We’re really missing out on college students as potential employees,” the mayor said.