UPDATE: Commissioners discuss possible shelter-in-place order at special meeting

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This story will appear in the April 1 edition of the Mitchell News-Journal. We have posted it here now with no paywall in our ongoing effort to keep the community informed about the COVID-19 pandemic.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This meeting took place on the second floor of the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse instead of the usual meeting room in the administration building to adhere to the practice of social distancing.

BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners met in a special session Thursday, March 26, to discuss the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county and a “likely” shelter-in-place order.

No one disclosed the identity of the infected person, however, it was revealed she is a female who had been traveling recently and works in an “essential” profession. When asked how many people this person had been in contact with, all Toe River Health District Nursing Supervisor Christy Duncan said was, “a lot.”

Much of the meeting centered on what a shelter-in-place order in Mitchell County would look like and when it might be implemented.

“We need to have a plan,” said Commissioner Jeff Harding, who requested the meeting. “Whether that plan is enacted immediately or enacted at a later date, we need to have all of our ducks in a row so we will not be flying by the seat of our pants.”

County Attorney Lloyd Hise said a shelter-in-place order would require people who are considered “nonessential” to stay home unless necessary. Such an order would limit travel and ultimately reduce the spread of the virus. If a person violated this, they could be charged with a class two misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.  

Various government and health officials were present to provide insight to the commissioners about formulating a plan to protect the community. These included Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek, Emergency Management Director Kolby Silver, Sheriff Donald Street, Josh Newton and Chuck Shelton from the Mountain Community Health Partnership, and Blue Ridge Regional Hospital CEO Dr. Tonia Hale.

Although the board will ultimately decide who is deemed essential and nonessential, commissioners asked these officials to have a meeting Friday, March 27, to formulate a plan to provide for them so they could implement a complete shelter-in-place order. Commissioners suggested an order could go into effect as early as Monday.

Creek admitted if she had it her way, everything except absolute essentials, such as medical services and grocery stores, would be shut down. She added, however, that would be difficult for the community, especially with limited law enforcement.

There was discussion as to whether commissioners should even enact a shelter-in-place order, though, since many steps have already been taken by the state to close specific types of businesses. 

"For me, if you don't go at it fairly strictly, then it's almost like, why bother doing it at all?" Creek said. "If we do this, it would be good to find a happy medium between where we are and total lockdown."

Silver said no one wants to be the person to “press the button” on a shelter-in-place order, but tough decisions are going to have to be made soon.

"There are some things that are inevitable, and there are some things you cannot change about the situation that nobody likes," Silver said. "Is this going to be a hardship? Yes, absolutely. Is this decision going to be made lightly? No. There's a lot of thought and a lot of prep work that goes into this."

Near the end of the meeting, Harding made a motion to enact a voluntary shelter in place and curfew order that would have gone in effect at 7 a.m. Friday, March 27. After discussion, however, the motion failed to receive a second.