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Buncombe COVID metrics still improving; U.K. variant detected locally raises worry
Monday, 15 February 2021 11:24

From Staff Reports


The number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per week in Buncombe County has decreased significantly since the beginning of 2021 — and is now 277 per 100,0000 per week, which is 33 percentage points lower than four weeks ago, according to county Public Health Director Stacie Saunders. 

What’s more, in a weekly update to the Buncombe Board of Commissioners on Feb. 9, Saunders said that the “Buncombe County COVID-19 positivity rate continues to decline,” but cautioned that it is too early to celebrate because the B.C. 1.1.7 (U.K.) variant has been detected in Buncombe.

Since the pandemic’s start, she noted that, as of Feb. 9, there have been “14,193 confirmed cases of COVID-19” in the county. “There have been 270 COVID-19-related deaths in our community.”

Among what she termed “key takeaways” from her report is that “there are an average of 70 new (COVID-19) cases per day, down from 98 per day last week.

“The percent positivity also continues to decline and is 5.6 percent.

“Hospitalizations in the region continue to decline, with about 8 percent of area in-patient beds occupied with COVID-19 patients.”

At that point, Saunders reiterated, “While the overall metrics Buncombe County Health and Human Services monitors continue to trend in a more favorable direction, the B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, is circulating in our community. 

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts random surveillance on COVID-19 test samples for potential variant strains for better understanding of what is currently circulating. 

“Through surveillance systems, three cases with B.1.1.7 variant have been identified in Buncombe County. Twenty-one B.1.1.7 variant cases have been identified throughout North Carolina using the surveillance process.

“Typical case investigation and contact tracing occurred at a time of initial positive result for each case prior to the variant sequencing results and each of the cases has since been released from isolation. 

“According to the CDC, the B.1.1.7 variant is a more highly transmissible strain of COVID-19. Early indications show that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (the same as those used in Buncombe County) are effective against this strain of the virus.”

Saunders added, “This variant is spreading throughout the country and our state. We should expect to see more cases of variant in our community as transmission rates of COVID, while declining slightly, continue to indicate heavy community spread. It is important for our community to know that the same measures that are good at stopping the spread of initial novel coronavirus strain are just as good at stopping the spread of variants.”

Regarding the so-called COVID-19 “vaccine rollout,” Saunders reported, “Since Dec. 22, BCHHS has been vaccinating members of our community with help and support from Buncombe County Emergency Services and other partners. 

“To date, BCHHS has administered 16,400 total vaccinations. About 80 percent of these are first doses and the remaining portion represents second doses. BCHHS is currently vaccinating individuals in phase 1 and 2 – healthcare workers and adults 65 and older, respectively.

“Currently, BCHHS is receiving 1,950 first doses of vaccine each week and is scheduling about 2,000 appointments each week. While there has been an increase in Buncombe County’s weekly allocation from the state, vaccine supply remains very low. 

“If eligible for one of the vaccine groups, individuals can call (828) 250-5000 or visit to get on the waitlist. 

“Buncombe County staff is currently calling individuals between numbers 6,000 and 8,000. Approximately 40,000 individuals remain on the wait list, and they are contacted in the order which they signed up. 

“If individuals need to remove their name from the waitlist, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us at 828-250-5000,” Saunders advised.

“Please continue to practice the 3Ws to stop transmission of COVID-19. It will take the vaccine and these important preventative measures to get our families back to a sense of normalcy.”

For more information about COVID-19, vaccine waitlists and COVID testing, go to, Saunders said.

As of Feb. 8, following is the latest confirmed case counts and COVID-19 deaths among Western North Carolina counties, according to NCDHHS:


Avery: 1,732 cases, 17 deaths.

Buncombe: 14,143 cases, 267 deaths.

Cherokee: 1,949 cases, 17 deaths.

Clay: 621 cases, 11 deaths.

Graham: 539 cases, 12 deaths.

Haywood: 3,553 cases, 81 deaths.

Henderson: 8,178 cases, 127 deaths.

Jackson: 3,099 cases, 46 deaths.

Macon: 2,370 cases, 12 deaths.

Madison: 1,265 cases, 31 deaths.

McDowell: 4,485 cases, 54 deaths.

Mitchell: 1,193 cases, 15 deaths.

Polk: 1,250 cases, 20 deaths.

Swain: 1,096 cases, 16 deaths.

Transylvania: 1,718 cases, 22 deaths.

Watauga: 3,582 cases, 25 deaths.

Yancey: 1,372 cases, 23 deaths.



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