Black Mountain Town Council approves COVID-19 protocols in preparation for delta variant

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The mayor, with support of the Town Council, reinstated COVID-19 mask and face covering protocols for unvaccinated individuals.

BLACK MOUNTAIN - After seeing an uptick in cases due to the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, Mayor Larry Harris announced  Aug. 9 the reinstatement of COVID-19 protocols as it relates to the town of Black Mountain properties and employees. 

"Going forward, it was decided that anyone who attends a Town Council meeting is required to wear a mask," said Town Council Member Pam King. 

Unlike during the first wave of the pandemic, when council meetings were conducted remotely without public participation, the council agreed to remain in-person for the time being. However, all town offices will be closed to public entry, requiring appointments and masks in order to enter. 

The only public spaces still open to the public are the golf course, the community garden, pool and the parks. Town officials ask that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear a face mask or covering when attending these locations. 

In a statement released with the new ordinance, Harris noted that the council does have the right to override his ruling at the council meeting, yet all members of the council voted to uphold the initial mandate at the Aug. 9 meeting. 

The town of Black Mountain has remained in a state of emergency, declared by the town officials, since March 2020. According to Town Attorney Ron Sneed, this allows the mayor to input the new protocols under the state statutes. 

"If we're limiting access to the public buildings, I personally think employees can not wear a mask if they've been vaccinated," Harris said. 

Although town employees are not required to be vaccinated, under the new ordinance, those who are not vaccinated must continue to wear masks within town buildings and be tested on a weekly basis. 

Josh Harrold, the town manager, outlined the requirements for town employees under the new ordinance, saying that if an employee suspects they have COVID-19 or have tested positive, they must quarantine for 10 days or 14 if they're asymptomatic. Additionally, co-workers working in close contact with someone who has tested positive must also get tested after waiting a period of five days to ensure they don't test for a false negative. 

Throughout the initial wave of the pandemic, the mayor as well as the Town Council stayed complicit with the orders of the governor when it came to COVID-19 protocols, differing only slightly from the county ordinance in relation to restaurant capacities. 

The new ordinance follows the recommendation of both the Buncombe County Health Department as well as the governor's office.

Black Mountain relies on the Buncombe County Health Department for additional ordinances and guidance. Buncombe County currently holds a positive test result rate of 10.9%. The new ordinance follows the recommendation of the Buncombe County Health Department as well as the initial pandemic protocols outlined by governor's office. 

Per request of Town Council member King, the COVID-19 protocols were brought up for discussion at the council's agenda meeting Aug. 5. According to King, her concern was less related to the public setting, and more so related to sitting in such close proximity to the other members of the council as well as attendees of the meeting for such an extended period of time. 

"The new strain is very contagious, and vaccinated people can transmit it too, just as much as unvaccinated people," King said. 

King said while the mayor does not need the permission of the council to make a decision such as this, he frequently seeks the input of the council before making such an important decision. 

While there has not yet been any type of statewide mandate from the governor, the town officials plan to follow whatever recommendations come. With the exception of the restaurant capacity deviation from the Buncombe County ordinance, the mayor expects to follow the next wave of statewide ordinances, if there are any. 

"To be more restrictive than the governor, I think that can be kind of problematic," Harris said. "Because the public's getting conflicting direction."