The COVID-19 global pandemic ushered in uncertainty and change for everyone. In particular, Buncombe County’s public servants have answered the call to respond to the numerous issues created by the disease. In doing so, we’ve seen librarians working the 911 call center, property appraisers distributing food and working emergency operations, Recreation Services staff learning to drive ambulances, and more.
One of the realities of responding to a global pandemic is dealing with first responders and others who are infected and need to distance themselves from family, roommates, and others. To that end, the County secured a hotel for its isolation and quarantine (I&Q) housing that sheltered more than 100 people diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. In order to pull off this new resource, multiple County departments collaborated on planning, staffing, and supporting the overall effort. Environmental Health Administrator Jessica Silver helped spearhead the initiative and notes there are many challenges and unknowns when standing up an I&Q operation. “Guests are asked to pack a 14-day supply of clothing, medications, and any other vital components needed to keep them comfortable while in quarantine. Dealing with the forgotten items or needs of guests was challenging,” she says. “However, the most challenging component to I&Q is the unpredictability of the length of someone’s stay. Staff had to remain flexible and available to respond to any requests made by guests while on duty.”
In all, more than 50 staff from almost every County department provided support in some capacity. County Manager Avril Pinder says she’s amazed and proud of the all-hands-on-deck mentality of the I&Q staff. “This is what public service looks like. Meeting an unknown challenge head-on with innovation and a willing spirit in times of duress,” says Avril. “I truly appreciate our employees’ dedication and willingness to embrace uncertainty and adapt on the fly. Their efforts have a direct impact on the public health of Buncombe County and beyond.”
Environmental Health Specialist Casey Radford notes her regular work of inspecting restaurants is aimed at protecting the public’s health and safety, and her new role was a natural extension of those duties. “While the I&Q shelter was well outside our usual job description, it achieved our same daily goal of serving the public. It was rewarding to be able to refocus our time and energy during the shutdown to continue giving back to the people of Buncombe County,” she says. “It’s important for there to be resources backed by local government to support residents during a crisis. This was quickly organized and maintained by leadership, and then coworkers were able to step up to give the manpower needed to run it.”
After nearly five months of County employees running the I&Q, using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding, it has now transitioned to the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Assembly and its staff is running the operation. However, going from identifying a possible need to operating a fully staffed I&Q shelter while dealing with a multitude of other COVID-related issues is a testament to the ingenuity and flexibility of Buncombe County’s workforce. “In the COVID-19 world, public service means being able to provide a timely resource for our community. By working I&Q, our employees helped extend the reach of public health by assuring community members had a safe place to stay while resting and recuperating,” says Silver.
Buncombe County wants to thank the City of Asheville, A-B Tech, and the other partners that stepped up to help make the temporary I&Q a success. And of course, none of this would have been possible without the selfless help of all the County employees who staffed the operation. Please thank the following people for their effort to make I&Q a success:
Mark Rice, Kaylea Noce, Aaron McKinzie, Joshua Freeman, Andy Zoller, Pat Freeman, Sybil Tate, Jeremiah Leroy, Mila White, Kathy Brady, Vance Bell, Gina Sims, Diana Sierra, Rachael Nygaard, Michael Stanberry, Mary Parker, Brad Watt, Matthew Baker, Naydean Walker, Ashley Featherstone, Mike Matthews, Dorothy Castriota, Kayla Reynolds, Stoney Blevins, Jennifer Barnette, Jim Blanton, Neggy Fox, Allan Johnson, Corinne Duncan, Devin Whitney, Kevin Roberts, Sharon Burke, Melissa Reichmann, Michael Frue, Curt Euler, Matt Stone, Bob Haynes, Josh O’Conner, Ken Miller, Tristom Young, Trisha Burnett, Michael Mace, Pamela Freeman-King, Dane Pedersen, Jennifer Harrison, Casey Radford, Marlene Skiver, Jennifer Ingle, Savannah Kent, David Mease, Harrison Dunn, Lee Friedrich, Angela Donohue, Tim Gentry, Sarah Coppa, Joy Wilson, Pam Cassanego, Felissa Vazquez, Melissa Bennett, and Jessica Silver.