Jackson County increases restrictions on travel and business amid COVID-19 concerns
Restrictions on travel and the operation of businesses in Jackson County have ramped up substantially in the past week, as federal, state and local officials work together to try to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
On March 30, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners expanded its emergency declaration to require a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the county from outside of North Carolina or from another country. That same day, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s statewide Stay-Home order took effect, dramatically limiting the types of activities North Carolinians could engage in outside their homes for the next 30 days or longer.
Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Brian McMahan said these steps, while drastic, were taken to protect the residents of Jackson County from what is proving to be an extremely dangerous disease.
“We’re hoping that citizens will be very responsive and responsible, and understand that the reason these regulations have been imposed by both the state and local jurisdictions is because we’re trying to respect the health and safety of all people,” McMahan said.
Jackson County initially declared a state of emergency on March 16, releasing a supplemental declaration on March 23 that significantly broadened the restrictions in place on county residents.
The March 23 supplement outlined a long list of businesses that would be forced to close during the length of the order, ranging from entertainment industry businesses like bowling alleys and live performance venues to health and fitness facilities, gyms, pools and personal care and grooming services like spas and barbershops.
The March 23 declaration also established a moratorium on all short-term rental operations, prohibiting rentals of less than 30 days in the county.
On March 30, Governor Roy Cooper released an order requiring most residents of the state of North Carolina to stay home, restricting travel and business operations across the state.
“Movement is restricted for all residents of North Carolina to stay at their place of residence,” a Frequently Asked Questions document released by Jackson County read. “Except that they may leave to provide or receive essential services or engage in essential activities and work for essential businesses and government services.”
What qualifies as essential business? The list is long and varied. According to the order, essential activities for which residents may freely travel include:
- Health and safety-related tasks
- Trips to access necessary supplies and services
- Outdoor activities
- Providing care for others
- Working for essential businesses
The list of essential businesses is even longer, allowing a broad range of business activities intended to keep the framework of daily life in operation while many other facilities are closed down. They include:
- Healthcare, law enforcement and first responders
- Food, beverage and agriculture businesses
- Grocery stores and establishments selling household necessities or medicines
- Charitable and social services
- Energy-related companies
- Water and wastewater firms
- Transportation and logistics companies
- Public works agencies
- Communications and information technology companies
- Media entities
- Gas stations and establishments repairing or selling parts for cars and bikes
- Financial institutions
- Hardware and supply stores
- Critical trades like plumbing, electrical work, janitorial services and other necessary services
- Shipping and delivery companies
- Laundry services
- Work-from-home supplies
- Home-based caregivers
- Accounting, insurance, legal and real estate services
- Childcare providers
- Supply chain companies
- Funeral services
- Hazardous materials handling
On March 27, Jackson County expanded the restrictions in place even further, requiring anyone traveling into the county from outside of the state undergo a two-week quarantine before re-entering the community – no gas, no groceries, no interactions outside of the home for a full 14 days.
Although the measures taken to protect public health may seem extreme, McMahan said they were necessary given the dire situation faced by communities across the country and throughout the world in the face of COVID-19.
“I know there are some inconveniences with adhering to some of these orders, but this is literally a life and death matter for a lot of people and we have to do the right thing, which is adhering to these strict isolation rules and minimizing exposure,” he said.
The initial draft of the self-quarantine order appeared to have major implications for those living close to the state line who might travel between states for work or essential goods and services, like many living and working in Cashiers do. The board of commissioners released a clarification to the order on March 30, though, explaining that those living in another state and traveling into the county to perform essential work or receive essential services would be exempt in those cases. Likewise, those traveling from inside the county to another state to access those services or perform that work would likewise be exempted.
With such broad measures put into place, the issue of enforcement is proving to be a challenging prospect. The orders provide law enforcement with the ability to charge those found to not be in compliance with a class two misdemeanor, but McMahan said education and outreach would be the primary means of ensuring widespread compliance with the rulings.
“A lot of this is on the shoulders of people to voluntarily do,” he said. “But, if written into this order there is enforceability with local law enforcement. If people want to go out of their way to not comply, then the sheriff’s office does have the authority to charge them with a misdemeanor.”