The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce strongly disagrees with the proposal to adopt additional emergency actions that impact the business owners and residents of the Town of Boone, as approved by a vote of the Boone Town Council Thursday night.

* - In the first version of this statement, a reference was made to a proposed limiting of short-term rentals of 25% of their occupancy. While that issue was discussed, the Town Attorney informed the council that such a decision to further restrict occupancy beyond 50% capacity would violate the terms of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 138, barring local restrictions that require a different maximum occupancy standard for businesses than what is listed in the State order. The paragraph has been removed to reflect the correct action and we apologize for the error.

The language outlining a proposed indefinite lengthening of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors coming to the area, as well residents traveling from and back to the area, represents an unrealistic enforcement issue and poses negative impacts on our tourism economy, small business community, incoming college students, and a large percentage of our workforce, who may work in Boone, but live in counties other than Watauga.

While the proposed guidance regarding additional health-related measures such as masks for front-facing employees, hand sanitizing stations in public areas, and free masks for all residents have merit, we feel suggestions on how best to protect our citizens and visitors should come from AppHealthCare and the Public Health Director, who are not only trained health care professionals, but have a keen understanding for the testing and tracing trends that impact our area and should be factored into broader decisions. The AppHealthCare staff has been engaged in numerous discussions on local health and safety measures during this crisis, and their guidance has given citizens and businesses alike the chance to implement safe and responsible practices as the phased easing of restrictions continues statewide.

A discussion that goes this far and above current State and County guidelines should be made with ample time for community discussion and public input, and careful consideration should be given to how any of the above actions would be communicated, implemented, and enforced in our community. The suggestion of leaving these measures in place until a COVID-19 vaccine can be developed and distributed goes well beyond current State and CDC guidance, and would bring deeper economic strife to the region and risk further depletion of resources needed to fight the pandemic on a local level.

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce looks forward to engaging our business community, residents, and tourism partners while working with Town of Boone staff and the Boone Town Council to come up with a more realistic approach to these issues. There is a way to implement safe and responsible health guidelines that also allows for the start of economic recovery for a community that has been rocked by the absence of its two major industries for more than two full months. This additional action, while perhaps well intentioned, play as an over-reaction in comparison to guidance from Governor Cooper, our State Health and Human Services Department, local healthcare professionals, and other municipalities in our own county and region.

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce remains in support of the Watauga County Commissioners’ actions of Tuesday, May 5th, to reaffirm their support of Governor Roy Cooper’s three-phase plan to ease Stay-At-Home restrictions in North Carolina. We further support the adoption of their guidance on setting an appropriate time to remove the 14-day self-quarantine and short-term rental restrictions that were implemented as part of the Watauga County State of Emergency, built as our community’s response to COVID-19.

We are pleased to see the Watauga County Commissioners’ willingness to have further dialogue on these measures at their scheduled May 19th meeting, especially considering some of the guidance that went into their adopted plan quickly changed in Governor Cooper’s announcement of Phase One guidelines Tuesday evening. We are thankful that dialogue continues between Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque, Town Managers from Beech Mountain, Boone, Blowing Rock, and Seven Devils, the county Tourism Development Authorities, AppHealthCare, and the Boone and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce on recommending appropriate measures for the Watauga County Commissioners to consider as they balance the health, safety, and economic concerns of our entire community.

We hope similar dialogue can be established with the Boone Town Council and that appropriate consideration for a full understanding of the proposed ordinance and subsequent public comment can be achieved.

David Jackson
President/CEO