Offered since 1998, the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Investment Program expired New Year’s Eve. The program’s end removed a key incentive used by developers and preservationists for restoring old structures—a practice espoused for the Grove Arcade and nearly 100 other projects in Buncombe County alone since its introduction. James Harrison/Carolina Public Press

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Following stay-at-home orders earlier this week from Mecklenburg County, the state’s most populous, and Pitt County, one of the largest in the east, additional metropolitan counties in North Carolina approved similar orders Wednesday or announced plans to enact them soon in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Guilford and Buncombe, the third- and seventh-most populous counties respectively, approved stay-at-home policies during the day Wednesday.

Wake and Durham, the second- and fifth-largest counties respectively, have indicated they expect to pass such measures as early as Thursday.

However, most Durham residents are also residents of the city of Durham, whose mayor decreed the city’s own stay-at-home order Wednesday, to take effect 6 p.m. Thursday and remain in effect through April 30.

While the state’s fourth-largest county, Forsyth, had not adopted a stay-at-home policy as of late Wednesday, its primary city, Winston-Salem, issued such an order on its own Wednesday afternoon. It will take effect at 7 p.m. Friday and remain in effect through April 16.

The city of Greenville, which did not participate in Pitt County’s order, issued its own “stop the spread” order Wednesday. It will go into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday and remain in effect through April 10.

Most other large counties have stayed quiet about their plans, although Gaston, the 10th-most populous county, specifically announced it was not adopting stay-at-home on Tuesday.

Reporters asked Gov. Roy Cooper during a press conference Wednesday about whether he plans to adopt a stay-at-home policy statewide. Cooper indicated he does not plan to do so but said he respected the concerns of local governments that wanted to take these steps.

Some smaller counties have also passed stay-at-home policies, as have some smaller municipalities and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

North Carolina residents should check with their local county and/or city to determine what the policies are, or will soon be, for the areas where they live, work or travel frequently.

Guilford’s new policy will go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and does not have a set date of termination. Buncombe’s policy will take effect at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Below is a look at how the policies will work in these two counties. Residents of other counties should contact local governments for information about the current or impending rules in their areas.

Guilford County: stay-at-home

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All residents in Guilford County face a stay-at-home order from 5 p.m. Friday until the local state of emergency due to the new coronavirus is lifted or amended. Also participating in the order are the municipalities of Greensboro, High Point, Gibsonville, Jamestown, Summerfield, Stokesdale, Oak Ridge, Whitsett, Sedalia and Pleasant Garden.

Everyone is to stay “at their place of residence,” except to perform essential services or engage in essential activities, including working at essential businesses and services. Homeless residents of the area are exempt but are urged to find shelter.

All businesses, including governments, are to cease nonessential operations that require public mobility and restrict all nonessential gatherings and nonessential travel.

Specifically banned business operations include amusement rides and parks, water parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, play centers, playgrounds, recreation centers, funplexes, bowling alleys, cinemas, theaters, concert venues, country clubs and social clubs.

Nursing homes are restricted from allowing residents and others to assemble in spaces where social distancing and spacing of at least 6 feet between individuals is not possible. Additional restrictions on visitors to nursing homes were also put in place.

Like other communities with stay-at-home orders, Guilford has included a long list of exceptions for things that are “essential.”

Activities for the health and safety of people and pets are allowed, including seeking medical supplies or treatment that isn’t available online. Getting necessary supplies, such as food, consumer goods, home maintenance materials and supplies for working at home, is also allowed.

People are allowed to do outdoor activities as long as they engage in social distancing, including exercising by walking, golfing or cycling. Public parks can be used, but not playgrounds.

People whose workplaces are considered essential, such as health care, human services and essential government functions or conducting minimum basic operations, such as processing payroll, may travel to do those things if they must leave home but should work at home as much as possible.

People providing care or transportation to others, including pets, may also travel to do so.

Buncombe County: stay home, stay safe

All residents in Buncombe County will be under a “stay home, stay safe” order starting at 8 p.m. Thursday. The order is in place for two weeks, though it could be extended, and applies to all but essential activities and job functions.

Although the order does not list all municipalities in Buncombe County, as the Guilford order does, it applies both to residents of unincorporated areas and incorporated ones, including Asheville, Black Mountain, Montreat, Weaverville, Biltmore Forest and Woodfin.

Stay-at-home orders “are a proven and effective strategy for slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman said Wednesday during a livestream on Facebook.

“Many businesses and families have already taken steps to practice social distancing. The next two weeks is a critical period.”

Only those whose workplaces are performing “essential services” may continue to leave their homes to perform those duties. Workplaces that now allow workers to work from home may continue to do so, the order signed Wednesday says.

Companies that convert their operations to build ventilators, personal protective equipment or other medical supplies like disinfectants qualify as an “essential businesses” under the order.

Essential businesses include grocery stores, said Fletcher Tove, the Buncombe County public health emergency preparedness director.

“Do not use this as an excuse to make a run on grocery stores and make panicked buyouts,” Tove urged residents.

“You are taking from families and individuals who may not have the resources to buy ahead or may not have the schedule to get to the store in time to keep up with these panic buyouts.”

Groceries need to be there for the essential workers who will continue to work in health care, child care, fire protection, law enforcement and public utilities, among many other fields, he said.

Travel to the county for leisure purposes during the order is banned.

Under the stay-at-home order, people can leave the house to go grocery shopping; take care of a friend, relative or pet; go outside and get exercise as long as they stay 6 feet away from other people; get supplies that support working at home; or for essential work performed outside the home.

Those who live outside Buncombe County but work for a business that performs an essential service may travel to the county to do their jobs, Tove said.

While adopting a stay-at-home policy, the county does not plan to order the more intensive measure of shelter-in-place for residents, Tove said. Shelter-in-place orders only allow emergency travel and emergency services. 

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To help residents interpret the legally complicated order, Buncombe County has issued a simplified guide to what is allowed and not allowed.


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Kate Martin and Frank Taylor

Kate Martin is the lead investigative reporter at Carolina Public Press. Frank Taylor is managing editor. Contact Kate at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org. Contact Frank at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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