RALEIGH — Despite rhetoric of “turning the page” on the pandemic during a COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, March 17, Gov. Roy Cooper passed the buck to legislators on ending his statewide pandemic state of emergency order which is now over two years old.
During the question and answer portion of the briefing, a reporter asked Cooper why his state of emergency order was still needed and when it might be rescinded.
“It [state of emergency] does a couple things. It gives flexibility to healthcare providers to help with surges that come and it helps healthcare providers distribute vaccines and treatment to people,” Cooper said in response.
The governor then went on to say that “We presented to the General Assembly laws that they can pass so that they can end it. So, not a big deal.”
The reporter pressed Cooper on when the order would end, stating that the state no longer seems to be in an emergency.
“So, it’s a legal tool that we are using to provide the flexibility that’s needed,” Cooper replied. “And when the legislature passes a law to give that flexibility that’s needed, then we’ll do away with it.”
This is the first time Cooper has claimed that the General Assembly can end his statewide COVID-19 state of emergency order.
Over the last year, the governor has claimed it was needed to “draw down federal funds.” North State Journal was unable to substantiate that claim and state or federal elected officials who spoke to our outlet could not identify any federal COVID-19 relief funds that require a standing statewide emergency declaration.
Cooper’s reference to “laws” presented to the General Assembly is likely a reference to a letter sent by N.C. Department and Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley to House Speaker Tim Moore and other legislators.
On Mar. 7, days before Cooper’s order turned two years old, House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) along with the entire House Republican Caucus sent a letter to Cooper demanding to know when he would end the order.
Kinsley’s letter was sent to legislators on the order’s anniversary of Mar. 10, to as an apparent response to Bell and House Republican Caucus’ letter to the governor. Cooper has not issued a response of his own to Bell or his colleagues.
In his letter, addressed to House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), Kinsley says that order “provides practical and necessary tools as we manage COVID-19.”
Kinsley then goes on to list “legislation needed for mitigation,” which includes making changes to healthcare licensure and regulation.
As part of the legislative mitigation asks in the letter is that the legislature should to give the state health director “explicit authority to issue a statewide Standing Order” for “administration, dispensation or delivery of a FDA authorized or approved diagnostic tests, vaccines, treatments, medications or other medical procedure or intervention needed,” based on the health director’s “medical judgement” related to protecting public health.
Included in the same section, the letter asks the legislature to “provide immunity from any civil or criminal liability for actions authorized to (1) The State Health Director acting pursuant to this section; and (2) Any authorized individual who acts in accordance with and pursuant to a statewide standing order issued under the legislation.”
The third ask in Kinsley’s letter relates to “enforcement of expiration dates” for asbestos accreditations, lead abatement certifications, and various related certifications and recertifications. Under that proposal, professionals in those fields would get extra time to complete in-person “refresher course” training that was apparently delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
During the press briefing, Kinsley also announced various changes to the “weekly indicators” on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. The areas that will now be focused on include wastewater surveillance, COVID-like illness, hospital admissions, cases, booster rates, the prevalence of variants, and the CDC’s COVID-19 community level metric.
The changes introduced by Kinsley are part of the “Moving Forward Together Plan” posted on the NCDHHS website. The plan’s key components include:
- Empowering individuals to make informed decisions for their individual lives in returning to normal routines
- Maintaining health system capacity by continuing to coordinate with the state’s health care community
- Collaborating with local partners to support resilience and speed recovery
- Prioritizing equity in access to information and tools needed to protect against COVID-19
Other key parts of the plan detail that contact tracing is “no longer recommended in most settings at this stage,” but that testing in schools, work settings, and healthcare settings will continue.
N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders was also on hand to highlight the state’s strategic economic development plan, which was first put together last July.