RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper used the term “state of emergency” six times in his recent press release announcing another extension of various COVID-related restrictions, but he has yet to answer media and lawmaker questions about that continued state of emergency.
The governor’s June 11 press release announced Executive Order 220, which extends state eviction prohibitions, unemployment insurance “flexibility,” and the mask mandate for “certain settings such as public transportation, schools, health care and childcare facilities, in accordance with CDC guidance.” Executive Order 220 won’t expire until July 30 at 5 p.m.
At least one district isn’t waiting for the school mask mandate to be changed. The Harnett County Public Schools board voted last week to drop the mask requirement for all students. It is unclear what action Cooper will take.
Harnett board’s vote to drop the masks comes as parent and student “Let Them Breathe” protests at board meetings in multiple states have increased. North Carolina is only one of 12 states that still have a statewide mask mandate.
Cooper has continued to claim a state of emergency, first issued on March 10, 2020, which has no expiration date. As of Tuesday evening, it is 462 days old. South Carolina lifted its state of emergency in early June, and Virginia will let its declaration expire on June 30. New Jersey and Arkansas have also lifted their statewide declarations.
The press release made numerous claims about the advantages of maintaining a state of emergency yet did not show that any of those benefits required an emergency declaration.
Cooper’s release claims that under a state of emergency, North Carolina has “easier access to federal funding including FEMA Public Assistance reimbursements, and schools can follow uniform safety guidance under the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit.”
However, as North State Journal previously reported, the FEMA reimbursements only have language requiring a presidential disaster declaration, not a state-level state of emergency declaration.
Similarly with regard to the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit, both Cooper and N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Mandy Cohen have stated that the toolkit draws from CDC recommendations. The CDC has no requirement for a state of emergency in order to follow that guidance.
The governor also makes the claim that a state of emergency “allows critical regulatory flexibility” for NCDHHS to alter the number of people authorized to administer vaccines and tests and to change COVID-19 patients’ mobility in certain facilities.
Additionally, Cooper’s press release claims that a state of emergency lets NCDHHS continue to allow “temporary additional flexibility for tele-health opportunities” and lets “out-of-state licensed workers to practice in North Carolina and for retired health care professionals, students in training and skilled volunteers to provide care.”
North State Journal asked the governor’s office to explain how and why a state of emergency is part of these claims; however, Cooper’s office did not respond to the inquiry.
The governor also has not responded to questions last week included in a letter from lawmakers. The letter asks for specific details on how and when he will end the state of emergency, and is signed by House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) and state Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort).
Bell and Kidwell are two primary sponsors of House Bill 264, “Emergency Powers Accountability Act,” which if passed will require the governor to obtain concurrence from the Council of State when issuing a state-wide declaration of emergency lasting longer than 30 days.
“We cannot find any truth to his statement that we must be in a state of emergency to draw down federal funds or the other reasons listed in his latest executive order,” Bell said in an emailed statement to North State Journal. “As is the case with hurricanes and other natural disasters, we can continue to use federal funding long after the state of emergency has ended.”
Bell argued that other states wouldn’t be ending their emergency declarations if doing so would cut off much-needed funding.
“That’s why we are asking for specifics on why we still need to be in a state of emergency and what it will take for it to end. These are basic questions that the Governor should be able to answer,” said Bell. “The Governor needs to be more transparent with the public. His lack of answers is causing confusion and uncertainty among people and businesses. Simply put, we need to see a plan. At this point, we have still not even received a response to our letter from the Governor.”
A final claim in the press release is that the “state’s vaccination efforts and incentive programs are also organized using tools made available by the State of Emergency,” with the new “million-dollar summer cash and college tuition drawing” given as an example.
According to the Frequently Asked Questions document paired with the summer cash rollout, “Prizes are wholly funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.”
North State Journal asked which federal Coronavirus fund the FAQ is referring to and what clause in that funding requires a state of emergency. Again, there was no response from the governor’s office.