A judge has temporarily stopped the town of Boone from forcing visitors to wait 14 days before entering most businesses and other places that are open to the public.
Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne issued a temporary restraining order Friday evening that forbids the town from enforcing a declaration it passed on Thursday that imposed the waiting period.
Under the town’s emergency declaration passed on Thursday by Boone Town Council, people who came into Boone after having spent the night anywhere outside Watauga County had to wait 14 days before they could enter most buildings that are open to the public.
The declaration stated that by staying in Watauga County continuously for 14 days, visitors could then enter establishments serving the public in Boone.
The town imposed the new rule after the lifting of a similar waiting period that had been in place throughout Watauga County until repealed by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on May 19.
Hotel owners took the town to court on Friday to stop enforcement of the new order, and Judge Horne agreed with their argument that they would suffer “immediate harm” to their businesses if they had to abide by the new restrictions.
Horne said the hotels would suffer harm to their reputations by being unable to honor reservations previously made by guests.
Attorney Nathan Miller, representing the hotel operators, said the business owners still recognize that they have to take the COVID-19 threat seriously, and that they are more than willing to operate at 50% capacity and maintain social distancing and other requirements.
“All they want to do is conduct their businesses in this new age of social distancing,” Miller said. “The population is suffering with a lack of jobs and bills to pay. People want to visit our community and spend their money in our community. We can make a balance in social distancing.”
The town had issued the new restrictions as an update to its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Suing the town were Ann-Marie Yates (a travel agent), Mountain Resort Management LLC (operator of Holiday Inn Express of Boone), Hospitality Group of Hickory Inc. (operator of the Fairfield Hotel) and Smokey Mountain Hospitality LLC (operator of Comfort Inn and Suites).
Judge Horne said he did not consider whether the suing hotel operators might win their case in issuing the temporary restraining order, but that he would do so on June 1 when he holds a hearing on a related preliminary injunction the hotel operators are seeking.
The town’s 14-day waiting period, now on hold because of the judge’s order, has exceptions for people who are coming to Boone for medical treatment or who have been tested and found free from COVID-19. The waiting period would apply to both residents and non-residents if they have spent the night elsewhere, but would carve out an exception for commuters who regularly work in Watauga County.
In addition to businesses, the 14-day rule would apply to town offices, non-profit offices and other places, but would not affect the public’s ability to enter county and state offices.
Although officials at the state level on down to counties have talked of reopening the economy, the Boone declaration passed on Thursday maintains that there are still too many unknowns about the spread of the coronavirus.
The resolution passed by the town says testing is inadequate and that “the manner and rate of spread of the coronavirus remains significantly uncertain.” The town is also citing a continued increase in cases, particularly in the nearby counties of Wilkes and Burke.
Because Boone is visited by so many people from places with higher rates of COVID-19, the town resolution states, the measures including the 14-day rule are needed to protect public health.
But on Friday, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce said that the town’s rules “go too far.”
“At a time when businesses across our country, region and state are seeing restrictions removed, this action will maintain a heavy burden of business loss on a community that’s already been deeply impacted by the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the chamber said in a statement issued Friday.