Friday marks the beginning of the “Phase One” plan for reopening North Carolina businesses and institutions closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s initial stay at home order are not dramatic in this initial phase. Bars and restaurants are still closed to any service but take-out and delivery, entertainment venues, gyms and personal care businesses like salons are still closed.
But the move is still significant for North Carolinians looking to return to work and a more normal life. It’s also fuel for political controversies in an election year.
In the ad an organizer with the ReOpen NC movement recalls meeting with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the Republican challenging Cooper this November. As she talks about how enthusiastic Forest was about their movement, members of the group are seen verbally abusing health care workers, holding signs comparing the governor to a Nazi and calling police officers “pigs” as they are arrested.
Forest has for weeks been criticizing Cooper’s handling of the pandemic and this week released a statement critical of the phased reopening plan.
“The Governor’s Phase 1 rollout makes it clear that he feels that only he can protect us from this virus,” Forest said in the statement. “He does not believe that North Carolinians have enough self-control, restraint, or common sense to act responsibly in a world with COVID-19. While his announcement finally recognized that all jobs are essential, his new order changes very little across our state.
“For a state that prides itself on being ‘First in Freedom,’ the Governor has repeatedly denied North Carolinians the freedom to make decisions for themselves, their families, and their livelihoods. I understand completely the cautious approach that he and governors around the country took two months ago, when there was so much uncertainty around how this virus could attack someone. However, with all the data publicly available from other states, there is no need to continue using fear to drive policy decisions.”
The statement reflects increasingly critical Republican rhetoric on the pandemic response and the timing and manner of reopening. On Thursday Republican lawmakers in the state senate filed a bill that would limit penalties for violating executive orders and local prohibitions related to the pandemic as well as limiting how occupational licensing boards can react to businesses opening before they are authorized under the orders.
But a series of recently released polls show North Carolinians overwhelmingly support Cooper’s actions on the pandemic and show him leading Forest in head-to-head matchups. A WRAL poll released late last month found Cooper would bet Forest by a 57-30 margin were the election held when the poll was conducted. The latest, a High Point University Poll released this week, found Cooper has a 60% approval rating among all respondents and 63% with registered voters.