Highlands Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Highlands Community Building and approved a supplemental municipal proclamation to further take action to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Call in order for curbside pickup or delivery
Of greatest impact may be retail shops and restaurants within town limits required to operate using curbside pickup or delivery effective immediately. This doesn’t mean patrons drive up and peruse a menu while they ponder their order. Commissioners are requiring people to call in their order ahead of time, drive to the location, make their transaction, and move along.
This isn’t just food folks. The same goes for all retail shops. People need to know what they want and call it in ahead of time.
“Curbside pickup or delivery is a good idea,” said Commissioner Brian Stiehler. “How can you protect everyone up here? If you shut everything down except essential businesses, at least then you have limited contact with others. This is about protecting people.”
Businesses not in compliance must close their doors until the order is modified or rescinded.
Commissioner Amy Patterson said many store owners in Town have already closed up shop and the more proactive the community is now, the better off we’ll be in the long run.
“We’re trying to minimize person to person contact,” said Patterson. “If everything is closed, people have nothing to do here.”
Second-home owners urged to stay away
Taylor’s advice to second-home owners, stay where you are.
“We’ve been getting calls of second-home owners asking if they can come up here,” said Taylor. “We do not recommend coming to Highlands at this time. Stay where you are to slow the transfer of this virus.”
All newcomers must quarantine for 14 days
The proclamation mandates anyone visiting Highlands overnight must self-quarantine for 14 days, including all other residents of the household. Regardless of where a newcomer is coming from or if they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19, newcomers to Highlands and all household residents must self-quarantine.
An example is a college student coming home because of school closures. The entire family has to self-quarantine. If that student’s sibling comes home a week later, start the clock over at 14 days again.
“We want to make sure it safe,” said Patterson. “The only way to do that is to quarantine for 14 days. Our number one goal is to prevent coronavirus from coming into our jurisdiction.”
No gatherings of 10 people or more
The proclamation prohibits gatherings of 10 persons or more with the exceptions of grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and gas stations.
Not excluded is the Famer’s Market on Saturdays at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park, which is now closed.
Penalty for violating mandates
Of concern to the Board was enforcement of actions taken at these meetings.
“My problem is, I don’t think a suggestion is going to cut it,” said Commissioner Buz Dotson. “We need to put some teeth into it.”
Those found violating any of the orders in the proclamation will be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a fine of approx. $100 plus court costs.
Commissioners asked whether the charge is continuous, meaning the person incurs an additional charge each day they are found in violation of the order. Town Attorney Jay Coward said he would investigate that in case the situation arises.
However, amidst discussions of potential misdemeanors and continuous charges, Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell said he believes the community supports the Commissioners’ goal to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“There’s no absolute answer to this,” said Harrell. “The majority will comply, and we’ll deal with the rest as it comes our way. Nobody wants this and they’re looking for direction.”
Other options under discussion
Commissioners discussed action taken by other proactive communities and Coward said Swain and Graham counties have implemented such measures as road closures at entry points and curfews for residents.
Almost all of those present at the meeting voiced concerns over the impact road closures would have on the Town, and what the logistics to properly monitor access points would entail.
“We simply don’t have the manpower,” said Harrell.
This is not to say Harrell couldn’t go grab some concrete roadblocks from N.C. Department of Transportation and set up impassable-unmanned barricades at multiple points around Highlands, but Taylor said the Board wasn’t going to take that step on Wednesday.
“Without the county behind this, I find it very problematic to close off the Town,” said Taylor.
The BoC held its first emergency meeting on Monday earlier this week and Taylor often asked Coward if the Board had the authority to implement actions under discussion such as road closures.
Coward said the N.C. Emergency Management Act gives local governments the authority and responsibility to act in prevention of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural or man-made emergencies, or hostile military or paramilitary action.
“Yes, you can do what you’re suggesting (close roads),” said Coward. “You can shut down all of your roads, or just some of them.The Emergency Management Act allows you to do that.”
For all recent articles and resources regarding COVID-19, click on the COVID-19 tab in the menu at the top of the screen. Information is broken down by topic with links to credible resources that are updated regularly.
Editor’s Note: Town Clerk Gibby Shaheen could have called it a day after the meeting ended, but she stayed and made all the necessary amendments to the proclamation to send out to the media within an hour of the meeting’s adjournment. A big thank you Gibby from Plateau Daily News for helping to keep the community informed.
For more about the N.C. Emergency Management Act HERE.
For more information about COVID-19 from the Macon County Public Health Department click HERE.
For more information about COVID-19 from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office click HERE.
For more information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention click HERE.
For more information about the North Carolina Utility Commission suspending disconnections click HERE.
Supplemental Municipal Proclamation approved by the Highlands Board of Commissioners on March 25.