By Nathan Ham
During the council’s virtual meeting held on Thursday, the Boone Town Council voted by a 4-1 margin to consider extending additional restrictions for businesses and town offices in the Town of Boone. The restrictions would include what the Watauga County Commissioners and Governor Roy Cooper have planned for the Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 reopening, but also taking things a step further.
Councilman Sam Furgiuele made several proposals, including the biggest of which would continue the 14-day quarantine period for out-of-town residents and limit business occupancy to 25 percent rather than the 50 percent occupancy in Gov. Cooper’s recommendations. Other recommendations from Furgiuele included continuing to hold all meetings electronically, continue social distancing in all commercial properties, hand sanitizer as the entrances and exits of all town offices and town businesses, require all workers at town offices and town businesses who work with the public to wear masks and require all restaurants to only use disposable menus.
These restrictions would continue in the Town of Boone until further notice or until a vaccine for COVID-19 is ready for public use.
In the 4-1 vote, Nancy LaPlaca voted against the proposals.
Council members agreed to consider public input on the proposals before holding a vote on whether or not to put these new restrictions in place. The council will meet next on Tuesday, May 19 at 6 p.m.
On Friday morning, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO David Jackson issued a statement strongly disagreeing with the proposals put forward in Thursday’s town council meeting.
“The language outlining a proposed indefinite lengthening of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors coming to the area, as well residents traveling from and back to the area, represents an unrealistic enforcement issue and poses negative impacts on our tourism economy, the small business community, incoming college students, and a large percentage of our workforce, who may work in Boone, but live in counties other than Watauga,” said Jackson.
With a 25-percent capacity restriction on businesses, it would be nearly impossible for any small business or hotel to make any money.
“The proposed limiting of the hotel and short-term rentals to 25% of their occupancy places nearly all of these properties in an unprofitable position and threatens the existence of many of our tourism-related businesses by holding Boone to guidelines that are not consistent with any other municipality in our immediate or regional area,” Jackson said.
County Guidance Differs from Boone Town Council Proposals
On Tuesday, the Watauga County Commissioners unanimously approved a plan put forward by county manager Deron Geouque that included continuing the hotel and short-term rental restrictions and 14-day quarantine period for residents and non-residents returning to the county for overnight stays until June 5.
“We decided to try and have a unified message so we don’t have a situation where the county allows short-term rentals but Blowing Rock or Boone feels the need to continue with the short-term rental prohibition. We’ve been trying to develop a plan that is acceptable to both the county and the municipalities so we have a consistent message that we can get out to the public and not one that is confusing,” Geouque said.
Commissioners acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing the current restrictions as they are. It seems difficult to imagine an indefinite extension of the 14-day quarantine for out-of-county residents and visitors being enforceable.
“We don’t have enough enforcement for people that are driving in and going to their second homes unless they are volunteering to do right,” said commissioner Perry Yates. “I think that if we are on the governor’s plan, everybody from the surrounding counties and areas would be on the same page with the same set of rules.”
“We are already stressed locally and cannot do enforcements better than what we are doing. It’s only going to escalate with what limited restrictions we have,” said commissioner Larry Turnbow.
As a reminder, Phase 1 of Governor Cooper’s reopening plan begins Friday evening at 5 p.m. These restrictions could be eased as early as May 22 when Phase 2 could begin. It all depends on meeting testing goals and a downward trend in the number of positive cases. Retail stores can reopen with 50-percent building capacity and people can leave their houses now for more than just the essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacy trips, and doctor’s appointments.