RALEIGH — On May 5, Governor Roy Cooper announced that phase one of his proposed plan to reopen North Carolina for business would start on Friday, May 8 at 5 p.m. and will run for two more weeks, through May 22, unless rescinded or replaced.
The announcement comes on the same day as the ReOpen NC protest, the fourth one in as many weeks, and the news that over 1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment since the governor began to shut the state down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for governor, released a statement criticizing phase one and Cooper for “using fear to drive policy decisions” and for not trusting North Carolinians to go about their daily lives and operate their businesses safely.
“The governor’s phase one rollout makes it clear that he feels that only he can protect us from this virus. He does not believe that North Carolinians have enough self-control, restraint, or common sense to act responsibly in a world with COVID-19,” said Forest. “While his announcement finally recognized that all jobs are essential, his new order changes very little across our state.”
Forest went on to say that ” If we are able to congregate at 50% capacity in a big box store, why can we not do the same with social distancing at our houses of worship? It is way past due for the governor to shift strategies and put measures in place that restore our freedoms in a responsible manner.”
Another of North Carolina’s top lawmakers, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), issued a press release following Cooper’s phase one rollout, which stated that “Gov. Cooper’s announcement today is largely a continuation of the existing lockdown.”
“A statewide stay-at-home order still remains in place, and nearly every business that applied for essential status has already been operating at limited capacity so long as they practice social distancing,” said Berger’s statement.
And Berger isn’t wrong. Phase one of Cooper’s plan loosens only a few restrictions and keeps the stay-at-home order in place. In his own press release, the governor himself called it a “Modified Stay At Home Order.”
43 states have eased or lifted restrictions already, including outbreak epicenters such as California and New York. North Carolina is one of only a handful of states where restrictions have been relaxed or lifted and is the only state in the south who has not reopened the majority of businesses.
The governor’s phase plan came in yet another executive order, which details a series of “allowable activities” for both individuals and for businesses.
Restaurants will still be closed for dine-in services and bars cannot open for onsite consumption. This means that the pick-up and delivery only system of obtaining food from restaurants will continue. Restaurant owners who attended the ReOpen NC rally yesterday tell North State Journal that their businesses are sit-down dining orientated and not set up for those kinds of transactions. As a result, they are on the verge of shutting down and their families and staff are suffering.
Eateries in beach towns that count on or are comprised mainly of outdoor seating as well as restaurants across the state will not see any relief from Cooper’s phase one order either.
When asked why certain businesses like personal grooming services like hair salons and entertainment centers like movie theaters were being kept closed, Cooper said those businesses can’t safely operate under social distancing guidelines.
“Until we can stabilize testing, tracing and trends, those are the type of things we think should be opened in phase two and under supervision with some strict rules for protection of clients and customers,” said Cooper.
“When we get into phase two, we’ll be talking about opening some or all of those businesses,” Cooper said.
Businesses not specifically listed in the order appear to have the option to reopen. Retail patron capacity is increased in phase one from 20% to 50% of fire code maximum capacity.
The order also “allows” for citizens to leave their home for “commercial activity,” but otherwise the stay-at-home order and mass gathering ban still apply.
“People may travel to another person’s home for social purposes, so long as no more than ten (10) people gather and the activity occurs outside,” Cooper’s phase one order reads.
State parks are encouraged to reopen, but playgrounds remain closed. In order for state parks to open, they are required to follow the same rules as retail providers in section 3, subsection b. Those rules include limiting the number of people in an area, social distancing rules, disinfecting rules, screening of workers and more.
Restrictions on going to church or even protesting, as ReOpen NC has been doing for weeks, have been eased slightly. According to the phase one order, citizens can “leave their homes to travel to and from a place of worship or exercise any other rights protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its North Carolina counterparts.”
Parents and kids may have their summer camps curtailed too. Day camps are allowable so long as they follow the “Interim Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Guidance for Day Camps.” According to that guidance, a long list of social distancing and symptom monitoring expectations must be met and no overnight camps are permitted.
Finally, visiting loved ones in long-term care or congregate living setting is still restricted, unless they are dying. The order gives visitation exceptions for “certain compassionate care situations, for example, an end-of-life situation.”