RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out a new executive order and mentioned the possibility of a “phase 2.5” to open more businesses in industries that are currently suing the governor.
Cooper is facing a growing list of lawsuits being filed in an effort to halt his “phase two” order keeping certain businesses closed and restricting others. So far, the governor has been sued by churches, hair salons, multiple gym owners, adult entertainers, trampoline parks, bowling alleys.
As of today, the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association has joined the list.
“The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association today filed a lawsuit on behalf of 185 businesses to have private bars included under the same reopening safety rules as restaurants, eating establishments, wineries, distilleries, breweries, and private clubs,” said the statement on the association’s Facebook page.
The suit is seeking a temporary restraining order against Cooper’s executive order 141, in addition to a preliminary and permanent injunction.
Additionally, a coalition of a dozen news outlets including the New York Times and Associated Press are suing both Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS)
Lawmakers are hitting Cooper’s orders from the other side and have already passed a bill to reopen taverns and bars and sent it to the governor on May 28. House Bill 536 would temporarily authorize establishments to offer outdoor dining and beverage service options if specific conditions are met. Cooper has ten days to sign or veto the bill or it becomes law without his signature.
Another bill overriding his executive order keeping fitness centers and gyms closed will likely land on Cooper’s desk soon after unanimously passing out of committee earlier today. When asked about them, Cooper said they “take away flexibility from the state” he might need to reverse re-openings if COVID-19 cases begin to rise again.
Cooper was asked if there might be changes coming to allow other businesses to open up in light of several bills at the legislature that would override his order keeping gyms and bars shuttered. The governor replied that “we are analyzing whether bars or gyms and bars should be allowed to open the end of phase two” which is on June 26.
“We might want to do a phase 2.5 and look at some of these additional items that might boost our economy, but that we would feel safe about not boosting the number of COVID-19 cases enough to overwhelm our hospitals,” said Cooper.
When pressed for more details on “phase 2.5,” the governor declined to elaborate and reverted to his oft-repeated phrase: “We’re going to let the science and the data drive decisions here.”
To date, North Carolina has yet to be in danger of a lack of beds or ventilators for COVID-19 patients. As of June 4, there are 659 people hospitalized with COVID-19.
NCDHHS’ COVID-19 data dashboard for hospitalizations says that there are currently 477 ICU beds (15%) available out of a reported 3,223 total and 3,750 inpatient beds (21%) available out of 17,805 beds. Those bed numbers, however, are based on only 85% of hospitals in the state reporting. It is important to note that the hospitalizations section of the dashboard has never shown 100 percent reporting by the state’s hospitals.
In an email to North State Journal, NCDHHS said that for hospital beds and ICU beds “those are total beds in use/total beds available. Not specific to COVID-19 patients.” NCDHHS said that the bed data “allows us to see the capacity of the hospitals to treat all patients.”
The governor also rolled out executive order 143 which he says will “address disparities in communities of color that are being highlighted and intensified by this pandemic.”
The new order creates the “Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Equity Task Force” to address long-term disparities. Andrea Harris passed away in mid-May at the age of 72. She co-founded the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, of which she also was president of for several years.
“Naming this task force in her honor is a way to carry on her mission,” said Cooper.
“In North Carolina, African Americans make up approximately 22 percent of the population,” said Cooper. “But as of June 1, they account for 30 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34 percent of COVID-19 deaths.”
Cooper also said that Hispanic people are “just 10% of the population, yet they make up 39% of COVID-19 confirmed cases.” The governor said these statistics were unacceptable and his executive order was designed to address the issue.
The task force will focus on access to health care; patient engagement in health care settings; economic opportunities in business development and employment; environmental justice and inclusion; and education.
“As the task force examines long-term opportunities, there are meaningful things we can do right now to lessen disparities. We know that black and minority-owned businesses are often overlooked & under-resourced,” Cooper said. “Too many of these businesses have been excluded from COVID-19 funds.”
With respect to minority businesses, Cooper said his order will direct the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to “ensure that COVID-19 relief funds are fairly distributed.”