RALEIGH — A County Commissioner has announced his county needs to open for business and that the governor’s approach is not working for them and the county will support reopening of businesses and churches.
Gaston County Board of Commissioners chairman Tracy Philbeck announced during a press conference Wednesday morning that the one-size-fits-all approach Cooper continues to use for the COVID-19 crisis is doing more harm than good for his county.
The statement by Gaston County was the “big announcement” which was expected to come during the Reopen NC protest on April 28 but was pushed back a day.
“Our goal was to make sure our hospital system was not overwhelmed,” Philbeck said. “We’ve done that. Why punish us for being successful in flattening the curve when a strict Stay at Home order no longer makes sense for our county?”
At the press conference, Philbeck rolled out the “Gaston Promise” which states county support for the reopening of businesses and houses of worship provided “they adhere to strict social distancing practices, follow all cleaning and disinfection requirements, and abide by all maximum capacity restrictions required by local and state authorities.”
The promise document goes on to say that the definition of capacity is “defined as the number of individuals below the local fire code threshold that can fit inside the establishment while still practicing strict social distancing.”
“We understand that what the Board supports is not in lockstep with the Governor’s executive order, but we support putting our citizens back to work and allowing them to worship corporately, both of which are their constitutional rights,” the Gaston Promise says.
The Gaston Promise stops short of opening up the majority of businesses, reminding citizens that “large gatherings, banquets, and concerts continue to be restricted” and that restrictions on long term care facilities and nursing homes are also “very much in place.”
The Gaston Promise also directs businesses such as salons, nail parlors, and related services governed by licensing boards at the state level to “consult with their respective boards.” During the press conference, commissioners said businesses complying can open today, at 5 p.m.
“We do not believe in a one size fits all approach in NC. In fact we believe a continued stay at home order will have a disastrous impact on our citizens. The cure may be worse than the disease,” tweeted Chair Philbeck.
This is not Gaston’s first attempt to let the governor know they wish to open up again.
On April 9, Philbeck sent a letter to the governor urging him to allow the counties to decide when they should reopen. Philbeck told Cooper that the county still plans to limit gatherings, promote proper sanitation efforts, and mandate safe social distancing guidelines adding that, “We can do this while also allowing our people to get back to work.”
“In short, I believe counties can monitor and deal with the situation at the local letter more effectively than the state can,” Philbeck said in the letter.
As of this morning, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services lists Gaston County to have 133 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3 deaths, however, Gaston County’s website says there are currently only 30 active cases and 106 people have recovered. In addition, Gaston’s website says that of the 1,696 tests conducted to date, 1,585 had negative results.
On April 23, Cooper announced that he was extending his executive order for North Carolinians to remain at home and for businesses to stay closed until May 8. Violation of the order is still a Class 2 misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of sixty days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“North Carolina cannot stay at home indefinitely. We have to get more people back to work. Right now, the decision to stay at home is based on the public health data and White House guidance.” said Cooper in a press release.
Cooper said that North Carolina “needs more time to slow the spread of this virus” before lifting restrictions. In addition, the day after his announcement to extend the stay-at-home end date, the governor announced the state’s K-12 schools would remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic calendar.
Other states like Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina have already begun reopening and more states have started rolling out their own plans.
Cooper’s stated plan to reopen consists of “three phases.” Assuming there isn’t another stay-at-home extension, the earliest Cooper’s phase one would roll out would be on May 9. Phase two is not slated to start until “two to three weeks” after phase one terminates, however, there was no clear indication of how long phase one would last. Phase three would start “at least four to six weeks” after phase two ended.
Ashley Smith, Ropen NC co-founder was unsurprised by the governor’s extension to May 8 and heavily criticized his three-phase plan.
“Cooper’s plan is to “phase-in” increased “social contact” through three phases with some six weeks between each phase,” said Smith in a press release. “I’m no math wizard but that puts us at about 18 weeks out – four and a half months! That’s not a plan, that’s a disaster!”
The phased plan provided by Cooper is also currently not part of an official executive order.