Open Letter Regarding Mask Mandate

Dear Commissioners and Councilors, 

I urge you to pass an indoor mask mandate for Buncombe County in accordance with the recommendations put forth by the CDC at the end of July. I would also ask you to please consider a mask requirement for large outdoor mass gatherings where six feet social distancing is not feasible. 

The arts council is in full support of vaccinations. We even co-hosted a vaccine clinic for the County in July. However, you can be fully vaccinated and still have COVID. Even worse, you can be a carrier and not even know it. For large scale events, showing proof of vaccination is not enough. Masks should be required regardless of vaccination status. 

I was disheartened to learn that Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville was granted permission to waive the indoor mask requirement for City buildings. I understand that enforcing a mask mandate on a large crowd is not easy, but we have done a lot of things that were not easy over the past two years. It is ironic that the City would put in place this mandate and exempt the place where the largest indoor gatherings occur. If a COVID cluster breaks out due to an event at the Civic Center, it will negatively impact all event businesses. 

This week, Asheville Area Arts Council launched a For Art’s Sake pledge campaign, with over 30 arts organizations participating so far. The organizations have agreed to require masks indoors and strongly encourage masks at outdoor events. 

We asked participants how they felt about the potential indoor mask mandate. 82% said they were in favor of the mandate and 18% said maybe. No one said they were against it. To be clear, we did not ask them their feelings on mandating masks at large scale outdoor events, but they did agree to strongly encourage masks at these gatherings. 

Arts venues cannot survive additional closures.Theses businesses were the first to be impacted in March 2020, with 1,300+ jobs losses and over fourteen months of full to partial closure. Arts venues are on the front lines again, many having already implemented strict mask policies. But, they need your support! Enforcing mask policies is not easy and these businesses need the protection a county mandate will provide. I ask you to vote in favor of an indoor mask mandate, and to consider also including large scale outdoor events. 

With Gratitude,

Katie Cornell
Executive Director
Asheville Area Arts Council