RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that the state could lift most, if not all, of his imposed restrictions due to COVID-19 – if enough residents are vaccinated against the virus.
Speaking from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, Cooper outlined what he said were next steps to lift pandemic restrictions. He said the state expects to lift orders regarding social distancing, capacity, and mass gatherings by June and a new executive order would be forthcoming for the month of May.
“Each shot in an arm is a step closer to putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror,” said Gov. Cooper. “North Carolinians have shown up for each other throughout this entire pandemic and we need to keep up that commitment by getting our vaccines.”
Cooper and N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen defined a vaccination metric for lifting of restrictions. Both said that achieving two-thirds of all adults getting vaccinated would provide enough protection to lift the restrictions.
Cooper did not directly address the mask mandate and added that children 16 and younger would need to wear masks until they are eligible to be vaccinated. “North Carolina’s strong safety protocols and actions to slow the spread are why we’ve been able to avoid a surge in cases overwhelming our hospitals. Our careful, reasoned approach has worked, striking the right balance,” said Cooper.
“We haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet. The virus will still be with us even after June 1,” Secretary Cohen said. “We are at an exciting moment. We now have enough vaccine for everyone. If you are 16 and older, it is your turn to join the more than 3.6 million North Carolinians who have already taken their first shot.”
Gov. Cooper’s orders could soon be running up against legislative changes before June 1.
The N.C. Senate’s Judiciary committee advanced their version of emergency powers modifications.
The measure, Senate Bill 346, would require the Council of State to approve a governor’s emergency declaration within 10 days. If the Council of State does not approve, then the emergency declaration expires. The legislation would also require approval of the General Assembly for any emergency declaration to extend beyond 45 days.
State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) said, “North Carolina is one of only 15 states with no time limit on an emergency declaration. No single person should have unchecked authority to wield emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. It’s inconsistent with the basic idea of a representative democracy.”
The N.C. House of Representatives passed House Bill 264, the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, on March 31.