Governor Roy Cooper's announcement Tuesday (May 5th) that North Carolina can begin 'reopening' at 5 PM Friday wasn't received well by many. Among them was Phil Berger, the NC Senate President Pro-Tem. Berger, like most Republicans in the General Assembly, wanted more. Berger called Cooper's Phase One of a three-step plan "a continuation of the existing lockdown."
"Over half of our counties comprise less than 10 percent of confirmed cases," said Berger. "Why is a blanket, one-size-fits-all statewide order justified? I’m concerned that Gov. Cooper is ignoring more reasonable approaches and the experiences of the majority of states."
Both Lincoln & Gaston County Commissioners had sent letters to Cooper urging him to allow individual counties to set their own standards. Last week, Gaston County Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck held a news conference, at first urging local businesses to disobey Cooper's edict, then backtracking when it was pointed out that the executive order has the force of law and violating it would be a misdemeanor--one which could lose licenses for businesses that didn't comply.
On Saturday, Lincoln County Commissioners Carrol Mitchem & Anita McCall spoke at a ReOpen Lincoln County protest gathering on the south side of the Courtsquare in Lincolnton. Other commissioners have told the Lincoln Herald they disagree with a 'regional' approach Cooper had suggested he might try. Said one, "we're not like Mecklenburg County (which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state), but we'd likely be grouped with them."
Under Cooper's Phase One, outdoor church services can be held--but with more than 10 people, social distancing (staying six feet or more apart) will be required. Parks and trails will be reopened, and Cooper said summer day camps could be held if they follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but camps won't be able to have participants stay overnight. With the exception of those on a short list (gyms, barber shops, hair & nail salons, tattoo parlors, theaters, etc.) all businesses will be allowed to reopen.
Restaurants and bars will still be limited to drive-thru, takeout or delivery service. Businesses that can reopen under phase one will have to follow social distancing guidelines to protect customers, such as limiting the number of people inside to 50 percent of capacity, routinely disinfecting stores and screening employees' health daily.
The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce issued its own three-phase plan Tuesday that would move the still-restricted businesses into phase one from Cooper's phase two. The Chamber proposal wouldn't limit capacity at restaurants, calling only for "social distancing" and protective equipment. Barbers, hair stylists, etc. would have to use personal protective equipment (masks) as would their customers, and disinfect work areas between customers. Gyms would have to maintain "social distancing" and limit customers to the same restriction (50% occupancy) as other businesses.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, said most of those trends have been headed in the right direction over the past week or so, including a drop in the number of people reporting symptoms of COVID-19; expanded testing; a lower percentage of tests being positive; and a flat trend for hospitalizations. Cohen issued an appeal for people to continue the suggested steps to stop the spread of the disease. "Think of the three W's," she said, "wear, wait & wash. Wear a face covering when you go out or are around others and social distancing is not possible. Wait – at least six-feet apart when standing in line. Wash your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
One of the major complaints expressed by some of the protestors pushing for reopening is that there have been multitudes of shoppers at retailers like Walmart, Lowe's, and some other larger stores; while small businesses suffer from abiding by the restrictions. On Saturday, after covering the protest on the south Courtsquare, this Lincoln Herald reporter saw big crowds at Burton Farms, Lowe's, Walmart & Ingles, most of them ignoring "social distancing" and only about 10% wearing any kind of face covering.
In his remarks Monday, Cooper said the pandemic isn't over. "We have to be cautious and methodical with plans to ease restrictions," Cooper said. "Phase one in North Carolina is a careful and deliberate next step. We have flattened the curve, but we haven't eliminated COVID-19. We can only boost our economy when people have confidence in their safety."
The pandemic has become the major political issue at both the state and national level. Democrats have largely criticized President Trump's handling of the crisis, and Republicans have equally denounced Cooper for the executive orders he issued to slow the spread of the disease.