By Beth Lawrence
Late Monday afternoon, Jackson County expanded the state of emergency declaration put in place last week.
The changes reflect and expand on measures taken by Gov. Roy Cooper earlier Monday limiting the size of gatherings and closing down a number of nonessential businesses to limit the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
Board of Commissioners Chair Brian McMahan, with the support of the Board of Commissioners, Emergency Management Director Todd Dillard and Health Director Shelley Carraway made the decision to take the actions of the governor a step further.
Cooper ordered a moratorium on crowds of 50 or more and ordered certain nonessential businesses like nail salons and gyms to close.
The county decided to order hotels and other lodging establishments closed and limit gatherings to 10 people.
“The major change we see in this one is it will close all rental properties in Jackson County like hotels and rental cabins with some exceptions,” McMahan said. “The goal is to stop people who do not reside in Jackson County from coming here to escape what is going on wherever they live. It’s so they won’t impact our local infrastructure and resources such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospital beds and all those things locals would need during this type of crisis.”
Language in the declaration states that the move was made to protect residents because an “imminent hazard exists,” from those participating in “non-essential travel (by) non-resident individuals in Jackson County.”
The declaration went into effect Wednesday, March 25, and extends to all municipalities in the county.
Businesses considered essential to survival will be allowed to remain open. The order lists grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations and food distribution sites, “to the extent they sell or distribute prepared food.”
Factories, medical providers, daycares, food banks, retail stores, or shopping centers and places “in which the public are not generally in close contact with other patrons are exempt.”
In line with the governor’s executive order, businesses which necessarily rely on close contact between workers and patrons or invite large crowds will be closed. Those include hair and nail salons, barber shops, concert venues, bowling alleys, gyms and yoga studios, movie theaters, bingo parlors, tattoo studios and indoor pools.
The county closure of rentals extends to: hotels, motels, resorts, inns, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, RV parks, vacation cabins, home rentals and any and all rentals or leases by Air-BNB, Homeaway, VRBO and all temporary rental programs that issue leases for less than a month.
Exempted rentals are: leased or extended stay properties that serve clientele who temporarily work in Jackson County “for business, medical, construction, emergency services or other related services.”
The proclamation advises temporary long-term employees to have their employers provide a badge, letter or other identification explaining the need to stay in the county and the expected length of the stay.
The hotel closure does not apply to homeless and displaced people living in temporary housing through HERE in Jackson County.
Restrictions on crowd size were put in place based on advice from the federal government and measures other states have taken.
“We’ve done that to make people isolate as much as possible and stay away from each other to limit the spread,” McMahan said.
Local law enforcement has been given the authority to reasonably enforce the new mandates, McMahan said. They can disperse crowds or ask people to leave the county or facility where they are found in violation.
Anyone violating the declaration could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor and could face up to 60 days in jail and as much as a $1,000 fine.
McMahan urged residents to use caution and common sense to prepare for the chance they may need to be home for up to two weeks but not to panic buy and not to spread unfounded rumors.
“People take a rumor and run with it, and most of what they share is not true,” McMahan said. “Use credible sources like the Centers for Disease Control, government websites, Department of Health and Human Services and local news outlets. Don’t rely on somebody’s best friend’s girlfriend. Don’t rely on that kind of rumor.”
The order will remain in place until the situation resolves.
The .pdf of the entire declaration will be posted to www.TheSylvaHerald.com.