Commentary, COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center

Shelter-at-home orders protect people; lifting them would invite a spike in COVID-19 cases, deaths

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters gathered in Raleigh to protest the stay-at-home order, claiming that the mandated closure of many businesses was causing unnecessary harm to the economy. On the same day, it was declared that the virus is the leading cause of death in the nation.

Public health experts agree that physical distancing is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When restrictions are eventually eased, it is nearly certain that there will be a spike in cases, so they must only be eased once a series of measures are in place, including widespread testing and contact tracing for positive cases, increased health care capacity including workforce and beds, ample personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and ventilators, and ideally a safe and proven treatment or vaccine.

When COVID-19 cases began appearing in North Carolina in early March, data models predicted that the pandemic would peak in the state in late April. Since then, the updated state-wide models have shown that if physical distancing continues beyond April, the peak will shift to mid-to-late-May, evidence that physical distancing is working. The peak will continue to shift in this way until restrictions are eased. This is why it’s so important for us to “buy time” to ensure that every corner of our state and nation is fully prepared, because there will be more cases and more deaths.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our state and nation in recent months, particularly among communities of color, which have experienced disproportionate rates of illness and death as a result of the virus. In addition, individuals and families are facing numerous challenges including unstable housing, food insecurity, interpersonal violence, anxiety and depression, and difficulty making ends meet. The hardships to individuals and families brought on by COVID-19 are real.

Despite these serious challenges, reopening businesses would only create more hardship. It would be catastrophic to the health and well-being of every North Carolinian, take us several steps back in the progress we’ve made thus far with the shelter-in-place measures, and would significantly extend the time it will take for us to recover from this pandemic.

Strong public infrastructure — our government — needs to step up to establish policies and programs that commit to improving well-being, not only during this pandemic but especially in light of the devastation it has caused. Hardship can and should be minimized through federal and state actions that prioritize and address people’s economic challenges.

Rather than oppose expert measures taken to protect us, we should stay at home as an act of solidarity — solidarity with the people who are suffering to make sure we all have a chance at staying healthy and safe, and solidarity with people who must continue to go to work at great risk for our collective benefit.

We should be urging our state and federal government to quickly craft solutions to the health and economic devastation we’re facing as a state and nation.

Easing restrictions and hoping for the best is not an option. It would be immoral and irresponsible to place the concerns of businesses ahead of actual human lives. It is critical that government ensure that people have access to the public goods and services they need to survive and thrive.

We must not take the decision to lift the stay-at-home order lightly, despite any temptation we have to resume our pre-pandemic lives. Staying home may be a challenge; however, it’s an act of solidarity for the greater good.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.


  1. Marissa Vaughn

    April 23, 2020 at 9:01 am

    Amazing article. Well written. Clear message. More from this author please!!!

  2. Jerome Keeney

    April 23, 2020 at 10:48 am

    What your commentary fails to address is the fact that not restarting the NC economy is going to result in deaths too. Abject poverty brought about by prolonged unemployment will eventually impact basic needs like food and shelter. What about secondary health problems not being addressed due to fear of contracting COVID-19? How about mental hygiene? The suicide rate per capital is going to go parabolic as anti-social distancing isolates friends and families.
    It is very easy to lecture when your income is not impacted. Governor Cooper and the RPD Chief of Police have taken no pay cuts or change to their quality of life. However, they have trampled on the First amendment via decree and arresting protestors for constitutionally guaranteed rights like freedom of assembly. The RPD even doubled down on stupid with a press release labeling protests as non-essential.
    It is very easy to sit atop the beauracratic perch and lecture the sweaty masses as to how a gubernatorial mandate is what is best for the public. How it is received by the reader may be directly related to their employment status and hunger level of their children.
    We must accept as North Carolinians that this virus is going to kill some of the most immuno compromised or those with comorbidities. They should self isolate. The rest of us should resume working and living to promote herd immunity. As a nation, we cannot keep printing money and passing on the debt to our children and grand children. We need to accept that death in a Pandemics is not able to be fully mitigated. Right now, in NC, the cure is worse than the disease.

  3. Joe Smith

    April 23, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    It’s quite obvious that bringing things back to normal or even by lifting some of the restrictions will only result in more people getting infected & more deaths. So all of you impatient individuals need to back off & let everything fall into place in the proper manner that puts everyones health & safety as the #1 priority! If you have a problem with obeying laws & rules then I suggest that you seek professional help & stop causing disturbances so that our first responders can use thier time & energy to assist those in need.

  4. Blake Moore

    April 24, 2020 at 11:51 am

    My income has not been effected by covid. But i know many ppl’s that has. I think we that are relatively health should do our duty and get back to work. For those that cannot (aging, immunodeficient, sick). We should get out and battle this virus, pretext the others and create the herd immunity.

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