County clarifies closure of borders

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Shelter-in-place policy discussed

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Cherohala Skyway and Deals Gap are the first two areas priority that Graham County will close to outside traffic.

During Wednesday's special teleconference – hosted by the Graham County Board of Commissioners – county project manager Jason Marino revealed plans to first enforce border patrol on N.C. Hwy. 143 at the Beech Gap section of the Cherohala Skyway, as well as the intersection with U.S. 129/N.C. Highway 28 at the Deals Gap resort. 

Both roads will close by 5 p.m. Friday. The Cherohala Skyway will be closed entirely, while Deals Gap will be the first location to screen anyone wishing to enter the county.

Graham County Sheriff Joseph Jones laid out a plan to use a combination of both deputies and other individuals to man the posts, which will later be enforced at the Graham/Swain border on N.C. 28 – near Tsali Road – as well as the U.S. 129/U.S. 74 intersection in Topton.

Anyone needing to travel through Graham to Swain County will be allowed to do so, but officials ask that no stops be made along the route, unless an emergency occurs. 

As of right now, two individuals will be stationed at each post. Jones indicated that all of his officers will be placed on seven-day, 12-hour shifts. Rotations between officers would take place every four hours, with the remaining eight hours on the shift being used for standard patrol of Graham County.

"We really don't know what's going to happen," Jones said. "We have no idea what the reaction will be, but I don't see everybody being compliant; that's for sure."

Jones' remarks were directed at several within the community that were also on the call, who expressed concern over the backlash that may occur due to the closures. 

"I'm afraid that someone manning these checkpoints is going to be hurt," said Tina Lee, who works at Tallulah Health Clinic and expressed the recognition of anxiety already being detected by those who have visited the clinic.

Shelter-in-place tactics were also discussed during the call, but nothing was decided on the matter. Graham County Commission Chairman Dale Wiggins and others on the call agreed that the protocol may be "inevitable."

"We're just going to have to hunker down and see where it takes us," Wiggins said. "We don't want to disrupt anyone's lives more than we have to. 

"All of this is new territory for us. If we have a 'shelter-in-place' policy, how are we going to keep those in Graham County in the county? Everybody is going to have to possess a great abundance of patience. We're going to have to take baby steps, not giant steps."

Though no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Graham County, the call also revealed that widespread belief of COVID-19 spreading to all 100 counties in North Carolina could occur by this weekend. 

Graham County Health Director Beth Booth also confirmed that thanks to another executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper yesterday, hospitals no longer have to disclose if a patient was tested for the virus. The only disclosure would occur if a positive test came back. 

"It's going to take it longer to work its way into rural areas and communities," Wiggins said. "We've just got to prepare for the long haul."