Pressure mounts on Cooper for reopening details

Roy Cooper COVID 19 March 27 2020
March 27, 2020 - Governor Roy Cooper takes questions at a COVID-19 press event. Photo: N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – Following mounting criticism over transparency, Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to provide details on his reopening plan for North Carolina’s economy on Thursday.

Legislative leaders and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest have been increasingly critical of Cooper, who thus far only has provided a six-page ‘three T’s’ outline for reopening the state. The three T’s stand for testing, tracing, and trends.

“Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift our restrictions all at once. Rather than an on/off light switch, we are viewing this as a dimmer switch that can be adjusted incrementally,” said Cooper last week. His remarks were made during a press conference following protests in Raleigh calling for reopening of businesses.

“It is time for Gov. Cooper to have a sense of urgency to reopen our economy and allow people to return to their livelihoods,” said Forest in a statement. “The Governors of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, among others, have all announced their plans to safely reopen their states,” said Forest, who will challenge Cooper in November’s gubernatorial election.”

Forest continued, saying that Cooper has “yet to release his plan.”

“He has repeatedly stated that he is waiting on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing from the federal government before he does so. With manufacturers of these products right here in North Carolina, we need to stop waiting and provide for ourselves as other states have done,” Forest said.

An unnamed Cooper aide provided details of Cooper’s alleged reopening plan to WRAL-TV on Wednesday. The plan tentatively called for a phase 1 reopening which would grant more freedom for people to leave their homes. Phase 2 would allow some businesses to reopen but with strict social distancing guidelines.

The phases plan did not include a timeline. The unnamed source told WRAL-TV that the stay-at-home order, which expires on April 30, would likely be extended into May.

“Transparency, not secrecy, will foster public trust during a pandemic,” said a statement issued on Tuesday by the N.C. Senate Republican Caucus.

Included with the statement was a lengthy letter from the caucus to Cooper, asking numerous questions of Cooper and the administration including what data has changed, how much PPE is needed, and now many COVID-19 deaths had serious underlying medical conditions.

Transparency of data and records has become an increasing problem for the Cooper Administration and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

On Wednesday morning, a multi-agency news story broke detailing issues with obtaining death certificates from various public health agencies.

“State law makes death certificates a public record, but the Cooper administration is now telling counties to withhold those records from the press. They also told counties to direct reporters to the NCDHHS comms team–but they aren’t responding to any questions,” tweeted News and Observer reporter Will Doran.

In addition, it was reported that NCDHHS was not responding to requests for such information.

“Within two days of journalists requesting death certificates from county health departments, officials with NCDHHS sent guidance to county offices advising them to not provide the requested records. NCDHHS did not cite any legal justification for the advice,” the report said.