Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday reiterated the importance of North Carolina’s stay-at-home order as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The spread of the virus is accelerating but at a “much slower pace” due to social distancing rules, Cooper said in a press conference. Cooper made his remarks as critics have urged him to loosen the restrictions that have caused many businesses to shut down during the pandemic.
“What we are doing is working,” Cooper said. “We are saving lives. Our biggest enemy is complacency.”
Cooper said he wants people to continue to stay at home through April. He also said, however, that he’s working on eventually loosening restrictions but that that would need to be done in a way that will balance boosting the economy without overwhelming hospitals.
The governor also said epidemiologists are modeling the spread of the virus in the state and those models show the executive orders are working.
State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said social distancing “is our strongest weapon against COVID-19.”
The Cooper Administration also announced Monday a new effort to reduce the prison population during the pandemic. Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks said officials are reviewing 500 inmates who’ve not committed violent crimes who could be released to serve their sentences in the community.
“In an effort to keep staff and those in our custody safe, the Department of Public Safety has taken numerous steps over the last several weeks to help reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread in facilities,” Hooks said.
Stay at home through April
Cooper said what happens the next two weeks will determine what executive orders and restrictions may be needed in May. He did not say if he would extend the stay-at-home order.
A group called ReopenNC is criticizing Cooper’s orders and wants restrictions removed so businesses can reopen, the News & Observer previously reported. The group plans to hold a rally Tuesday near the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
But Cooper said Monday that “wholesale lifting” of those orders would be a “catastrophe.”
“Some people want us to completely obliterate these restrictions,” Cooper said. “It would be a catastrophe. The numbers are very clear that these interventions that we’ve entered: the limits on social gatherings, school being out. limitations on bars and restaurants. Those kinds of things are working.”
Cooper was backed by a new group that formed Monday called Stay At Home NC.
President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that it was up to him and the federal government and not the governors to decide on reopening. Cooper said governors are making “hard calls about protecting the public” and “have this emergency authority under public health” to issue stay-at-home orders.
“I would not see them (Trump administration) deviating from what they have been doing since the very beginning (which) is to issue guidance and to let governors make the decisions about their own state,” Cooper said.
As of Monday morning, North Carolina had 4,816 confirmed cases, 313 hospitalized, 86 deaths due to the coronavirus, Cooper said.
The governor said he knows that staying at home is not sustainable in the long run, “but the evidence is overwhelming that right now staying home saves lives.” He said people really need to stay at home has much as possible over the next two weeks.
Continued social distancing advocated
Because the coronavirus is still going to be around until there’s a vaccination, “when restrictions come off, there will have to be continued social distancing.”
Cooper said he knows North Carolina’s economy needs to be jump-started, and the better the state can do the rest of April to flatten the curve, then “we can ease restrictions in May.”
Cooper’s announcement came as his statewide order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Monday setting new rules for retail stores and nursing homes.
Retail stores that are still open must limit their number of customers to no more than 20% of their maximum capacity at any given time, the News & Observer previously reported. The stores must also clean more frequently and enforce six-foot social distancing at checkout or in other lines.
Cooper’s order also requires skilled nursing facilities to close common areas, require employees to wear face masks and test residents and employees daily.
The state is dealing with a spike in COVID-19 cases at nursing homes, including two deaths reported Monday from a facility in Franklin County. Durham County on Monday also announced three nursing homes dealing with outbreaks.
Cooper previously issued a stay-at-home order from March 30 to April 29 and closed schools through May 15. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned and those who go out in public must maintain social distancing of 6 feet.
Cooper’s statewide stay at home order followed some local orders, including Wake County and Durham, that started a few days earlier. Cooper said that residents should follow whichever order is more strict. Since then, some cities and counties have issued nightly curfews.
Cooper’s order went into effect the same day as orders in Virginia, which has a Democratic governor, and Maryland, which has a Republican governor. Governors of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were slower to put restrictions in place.
Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-led General Assembly, have already started discussing COVID-19 legislation, including some tax relief, when the legislature returns to Raleigh for its short session on April 28. House committees about COVID-19 have been meeting for weeks to draft legislation to consider passing when both the House and Senate return. Logistics are still be worked out for how to have the 170 lawmakers vote safely.
This is a developing story and will be updated.