WHATLEY: Lockdowns and masks are not a plan

In this March 31, 2020 file photo, a woman pulls groceries from a cart to her vehicle outside of a Walmart store in Pearl, Miss. Walmart will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its namesake and Sam's Club stores. The company said the policy will go into effect on Monday, July 20, 2020 to allow time to inform stores and customers. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Several weeks ago, Gov. Cooper used Memorial Day as a backdrop for stalling North Carolina’s reopening at Phase 2. He mandated that masks be worn indoors by North Carolinians with limited exceptions.

Let’s get real: Masks are a tool. Masks are important. Masks are not a plan. 

Last week we learned that schools will reopen on irregular schedules, depending on each county’s judgement, with all children and teachers required to wear masks throughout the school day while in class. 

North Carolina families are struggling. Many are out of work. Those who are at work often lack childcare. Add school schedules that look like hopscotch and a well-founded fear of uneven educational progress — no wonder North Carolina parents are losing sleep. 

For three months, Gov. Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen have had ample opportunities to design and roll out an aggressive testing, tracking and tracing program. It was fully funded by the General Assembly with $337M appropriated solely for this purpose. 

Where is that plan? 

Let’s be clear: North Carolina cannot move forward without a coordinated, comprehensive, statewide testing, tracking and tracing plan. 

Other states have a plan and are ahead of North Carolina in their recovery efforts. 

These states have pre-purchased laboratory testing capacity and, in so doing, have negotiated better rates, guaranteed access to the reagents and supplies necessary to perform these vital tests and quicker access to their results. 

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen has not followed this approach and it shows. Our citizens must hunt for testing sites. They must wait in line for the test to be administered and often wait days for their results. In the interim, they are supposed to put their life on hold while waiting to find out if they are positive or negative. Some do, but many do not, choosing instead to go out and start the vicious cycle all over again.

This is where the 3 Ws play a role. The 3 Ws should be a way to augment our overall testing plan, but we have all sacrificed too much for that to BE the plan. 

It is little wonder that many citizens are cynical about wearing a mask. They realize their sacrifice — jobs lost, precious time wasted — and recognize the amount of money spent to help solve this problem, yet all they see from NCDHHS is an ad campaign telling them to wash their hands and stand 6 feet apart from one another. 

This should be unacceptable to each of us. North Carolina is currently a bottom-tier state in terms of our COVID-19 response.   

It is time that we all ask, what is your strategy, Gov. Cooper? Why are you allowing NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen to lead this state? What will you change today to ensure a different outcome three weeks from now?

Again, masks are a tool not a strategy. Our schools are on hopscotch schedules. Our families are fragmented. And our parents and grandparents are suffering from depression as they spend their final years in isolation. 

This loss of normalcy is the direct result of a lack of a coordinated, comprehensive, statewide testing plan. Normalcy will not be regained until this plan is both developed and implemented. 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The governor has had plenty of time to develop a plan to address the spread of COVID-19 — including the last three-week extension of his Phase 2 lockdown. Without a change in approach from the governor and his team, he will not develop one during this next three-week extension.

North Carolina deserves better.

By all means, wear a mask — but demand a REAL plan from the Governor. 

Michael Whatley is NC GOP Chairman