RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that a new executive order in response to COVID-19 will close restaurants and bars for dine-in customers. The order will allow them to continue takeout and delivery orders. The executive order will also include an expansion of unemployment insurance to help workers affected by the coronavirus.
Executive Order 118 will be effective at 5 p.m. At today’s media availability, NSJ asked if today’s order would modify any of the provisions contained in the two previous executive orders. Cooper said today’s order did not. Saturday’s executive order banned mass gatherings of more than 100 people.
Cooper emphasized that grocery stores will remain open and cautioned against stockpiling food. “I urge people not to go overboard. Leave some for others, especially those who can’t afford to buy a lot of food all at once” pleaded Cooper.
“The new reality is that people will be losing their jobs,” said Cooper at the briefing. The state currently has $3.8 billion in unemployment benefit reserves.
Senate Leader Phil Berger released a statement, saying “Between federal unemployment assistance and any adjustments made to the well-funded state program, assistance will be in place for North Carolinians impacted by the economic fallout from efforts to contain the virus.”
Included in the order are provisions to reduce barriers to filing for unemployment benefits. Those provisions include removing the one-week waiting period to file, removing the requirement to look for another job, and not holding employers responsible for claims filed as a result of COVID-19. Cooper also urged Congress and President Trump to act.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen added that the situation is unprecedented and that they are making incredibly hard decisions with real consequences. Cohen said the goal of actions both Saturday and today is to slow the spread of infection so fewer people get sick at the same time and the state doesn’t overwhelm medical system resources.
“I particularly want to urge folks who are higher risk – over age 65 or have chronic diseases or a weakened immune system – to be particularly vigilant,” said Cohen.
Later in the afternoon Lt. Gov. Dan Forest issued a statement questioning the validity of the restaurant ban.
Forest stated “After the press release, and shortly before a scheduled press conference, I, along with other Council of State members, was asked to concur with the governor’s decision with no discussion. The governor held his press conference and made the announcement even after a majority of the Council of State voted not to concur with the Governor. Thus, he does not have the authority to issue this part of his executive order.”
“While I understand that all actions in a time of crisis are very difficult decisions and have many consequences, some decisions are so serious they require, by law, discussion with, and approval of, other state leaders,” Forest’s statement said.
Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner responded to Lt. Gov. Forest, saying “It’s one thing to disagree, it’s another to create a chaotic situation in the middle of a pandemic. The governor is taking action to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians and does not need concurrence. The governor and the Secretary of DHHS have the authority to do this under state public health and emergency powers law.”
Weiner’s response via press release went out at 4:43 p.m.