By Dave Russell, The Sylva Herald

Questions about cars with out-of-state license plates coming into Jackson County – potentially carrying passengers with COVID-19 – have come up repeatedly in the community.

Why aren’t law enforcement officers pulling them over? Why do we not have roadblocks to prevent them from spreading COVID-19 in our community? Didn’t the county and state issue orders about this?

County leaders explained in a March Q&A that they would not be closing county borders like Graham County and the Qualla Boundary have done.

“The current assessment is that the logistics of closing major highways and roads and the subsequent manpower drain would overwhelm current county resources,” they said. “Jackson County is a highway/traffic crossroads for the other westernmost counties and Qualla Boundary. Resident pass-through, trucking of supplies and food, all transport must continue to flow. We cannot stop traffic or create traffic bottlenecks that prevent or hinder the abilities of our neighboring counties – and states – to provide for their residents.”

Pulling over people just for out-of-state plates is illegal.

N.C. courts have ruled that “reasonable suspicion” is the necessary standard for stops based on traffic violations.

Having out-of-state plates does not meet that threshold at this time.

For example, LEOs have no way of knowing if people are traveling through the county to other states, or have done their 14-day quarantine as recommended by county leaders. Others come from out of state to work in Jackson; Georgia and South Carolina are just a stones’ throw away.

Folks from out-of-state who work essential jobs are welcome without quarantine, per county declaration.

“The governor’s order and the county’s declaration make recommendations,” Jackson County Chief Deputy Kim Hooper said. “It’s not that you can’t come or travel through. We’re having to go by their orders.”

A county declaration that went into effect March 30 said anyone coming to their Jackson County home for an overnight stay from another state or from outside of the country should stay in their home or on their property (self-quarantine) for 14 days upon arrival before coming into the community for essential services such as groceries, gas or purchasing takeout food.”

That declaration changed the wording from “must stay” to “should stay” as written in the previous declaration.

“We’restill responding to calls to people who have seen 10 or more people gathered or who have concerns with an out-of-state license plate at a residence or something, and we are still responding to those,” Hooper said. “We’re just making recommendations to those people that they say self-quarantined for 14 days and have enough supplies to do so. We can’t make them do that. It’s a recommendation.”

People might not be coming to Jackson just to escape the virus elsewhere, Hooper said. “It’s that time of year when people start coming to their mountain homes,” he said. “It wouldn’t be any different from someone owning a beach house. You’d probably want to go there.”

As for closing the county borders, Hooper said, “We don’t have the resources to do that. There are so many accesses into Jackson County compared to the reservation and Graham County that we couldn’t do that.”