COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper, News

As COVID numbers show signs of stabilizing, North Carolina rolls out statewide curfew on alcohol sales

Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen offered a glimmer of good news on Tuesday:

Key metrics used to measure North Carolina’s trajectory of COVID-19 cases are showing signs of leveling.

“These early signs are a testament to hard work folks have been doing across the state. They show what is possible when we all work together,” said Cohen.

With the state performing an average of 29,000 tests a day, roughly eight percent of the cases have been positive over the last 14 days. Today there were 1,749 new cases of the virus.

The number of hospitalizations is up, but the state still has capacity.

And as for those masks that we’re growing accustomed to wearing?

Dr. Cohen believes they are making a difference.

“We see a direct correlation to the start of the statewide mask requirement at the end of June. Two to three weeks after implementing this requirement, we started to see the beginning of these more stable trends.”

To that end, Governor Roy Cooper issued a new executive order Tuesday to limit the sale of alcohol at restaurants after 11:00pm.

The statewide order that goes into effect on Friday will curtail the sale of alcoholic drinks in restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries. For now, bars remained closed under a previous executive order.

The order will not apply to grocery stores or convenience stores where alcohol is sold for off-premises consumption.

“We want to prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours. We are hopeful this new rule can drive down cases, particularly among young people,” explained Cooper.

The governor said he felt the new order was especially important with college students returning to North Carolina from across the country over the next two weeks.

Click here to read Executive Order 153 restricting the late night service of alcoholic beverages.

Secretary Cohen believes as cases tick upward in other states, the key to keeping cases from exploding here is to continue the three Ws: Wearing a face mask, waiting six-feet apart when in public, and washing your hands frequently.

“Seeing glimmers of potential progress, does not mean we can let up. It means it is time to double down. Adding 2,000 new cases per day is still a lot of new cases.”

agriculture, COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper

18 groups petition Gov. Cooper for more COVID-19 data transparency, especially from meat-packing plants

Workers in a hog slaughter and processing plant (Photo: US Government Accountability Office)

As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in North Carolina, there is still a lack of data regarding outbreaks at meat-packing plants, where employees work close to one another on assembly lines and kill floors.

The dearth of transparency by both the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the meat industry prompted 18 environmental justice and worker advocates to petition Gov. Roy Cooper to provide more information and strengthen employee safety requirements.

The letter, dated June 16, urges the Cooper administration, including DHHS “to ensure that all race and ethnic demographic data related to COVID-19 tests, cases and fatalities, as well as additional guidance for the protection of critical infrastructure workers, including meat processing and poultry processing plant employees, be released to the public.”

Meat-packing plants and agribusiness in general have been reluctant, if not hostile, to disclose the extent of the disease in their facilities. DHHS has refused to release data by facility, saying it doesn’t regulate the plants.

(Policy Watch is among a coalition of media outlets suing DHHS and Gov. Cooper over their failure to provide public records, as required by law. Today, a judge ordered the parties to enter into mediation, starting July 14.)

Most rank-and-file plant workers are from communities of color. Both statewide and national data has shown that Black and Latinx people account for a disproportionate percentage of the COVID-19 cases.

As of May 28, 2020, according to the groups, Blacks accounted for 31% of North Carolina cases, but make up only 22.2% of the population. Thirty-six percent of confirmed cases are Latino people, who compose only 9.6% of the state population.

“Yet, even now the number of workers infected in plants in North Carolina remains elusive – a problem only further compounded by recent reports indicating that neither the meatpackers nor state or local officials are moving toward reducing these gaps in needed public health data,” the letter goes on.

The groups asked for seven changes to the administration’s current policy:

  • Require public disclosure of the number of all confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • Add information reflecting locations of polluting facilities by zip code.
  • Require employers to test all employees and require all workers who test positive to self-quarantine for at least 14 days and to test negative before returning to work.
  • Require employers to provide the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and washing stations and hand sanitizer for all employees.
  • Require employers to follow social distancing guidelines at their facilities.
  • Provide sick leave and hazardous pay for any employee working during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Encourage different agencies within the state government to work together to address environmental justice issues and COVID-19 response.

As for smaller meat processors, they wouldn’t have to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines in order to be eligible for state grants, according to a bill that moved through the agriculture committee yesterday.

House Bill 1201 would appropriate $15 million to the NC Department of Agriculture to award as grants to small meat processors, which would alleviate any bottlenecks in the beef, pork and poultry supplies.

Rep. John Ager, a Democrat from Buncombe County, wanted to amend the bill to add worker protections and to require workers to be paid for two weeks if they can’t work because of COVID-19. “It’s money well-spent to keep workforce healthy,” Ager said during the agriculture committee discussion. “These meat and poultry plants don’t operate without workers that’s what this amendment is all about.”

The Farm Bureau immediately opposed the change. “This amendment puts a regulatory requirement on very small processors the grant is trying to help. They’re already trying to follow CDC guidelines,” Paul Sherman of the Farm Bureau told the committee.

Although the funds would be in the form of a grant — free, as opposed to a loan that would need paid back, Sherman said the amendment “would kill the interest in small processors from applying for the grant.”

Bill sponsor and Republican Rep. Jeffrey Elmore lives in Wilkes County, home to the Tyson plant, where at least 570 of 2,244 employees — a quarter of the workforce — tested positive for the coronavirus in May.

“You’ve got to remember is this [bill covers] very small processors with not a lot of employees,” Elmore said. “The grant money that could be used for machinery would be going to sanitation. It’s like taking a bazooka to an ant.”

COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper, News

House, Senate pass legislation to reopen bars, as Cooper raises new COVID concerns

Image: Adobe Stock

Members of the state House and Senate gave their blessing Thursday to legislation that would override Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order and allow bars to reopen and serve beverages outdoors.

House Bill 536 will permit bar owners to serve customers outdoors temporarily at 50 percent of their indoor capacity.

Establishments with an ABC permit would be required to enforce social distancing to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.

Supporters say the legislation is a lifeline for businesses struggling to recover after being shuttered for weeks.

Gov. Cooper told reporters Thursday that the legislation has the potential to hurt public health.

“This legislation means that even if there is a surge of COVID-19 that would overwhelm our hospitals, that bars still stay open,” explained Cooper. “There will be a time that we can open bars, but that time is not now.”

Two hours later the state House followed the Senate in passing (65-53) the measure.

Rep. Pat McElraft

Rep. Pat McElraft (R- Carteret) told her colleagues that the coastal communities she represents only have a few short months to maximize their earnings with tourists.

“In Carteret County we had 35 positive COVID patients, three deaths. Those three deaths were already in hospice, in their 80s and 90s. We are not a hot spot.”

Rep. Michael Speciale

Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) said his support of the bill had very little to do with alcohol sales.

“I disagree with the governor. I, Mike Speciale, disagree from a freedom perspective. Do I have all the answers from a medical perspective? No. But neither does the governor,” asserted Speciale.

Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Craven, Beaufort) also took aim at the governor’s executive order.

“In the United States you have the right to the fruits of your labor,” said Kidwell. “The governor does not have the authority under our laws, under our state constitution or under our federal constitution to do what he has done.”

Rep. Darren Jackson

House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), whose wife works in a hospital, tried to persuade his colleagues to slow down and not disregard the governor’s staggered plan for reopening the state.

“We are at an all time high in the number of deaths. We are at an all time high in the number of hospitalizations.”

Click below to hear more of Jackson’s emotional appeal:

HB 536 now heads to the governor’s desk.

On Thursday the state Department of Health and Human Services announced that the state had surpassed 25,000 positive cases of the coronavirus with 827 deaths, 33 more than one day earlier.

 

COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper

At-a-glance: Governor Cooper’s three phases to re-opening North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper has extended North Carolina’s Stay At Home order through May 8.

Today’s order also extends the closure of restaurants for dine-in service and bars and the closure of other close-contact businesses through the first full week in May.

Cooper shared details about North Carolina’s three-phase plan to lift restrictions in the coming weeks when the data shows that North Carolina’s cases of COVID-19 and other key metrics are headed in the right direction.

Read the governor’s latest Executive Order.

Here’s North Carolina’s plan at-a-glance:

Source: NCDHHS

COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper, News

NC Governor signs executive ‘stay at home’ order that starts at 5 p.m. Monday

Gov. Roy Cooper

Starting at 5 p.m. Monday, North Carolinians will be forced to stay in their homes for a month in an effort to slow the community spread of COVID-19, which is a pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that he signed an executive “stay at home” order. There are exceptions to the order, including for health and safety care and engagement, outdoor activities (with proper social distancing) and employees who need to go to a job that is considered essential by the state. Residents can also obtain necessary supplies and services from grocery stores or restaurants (take-out and delivery only).

The state has confirmed 763 positive cases of COVID-19 in 60 counties. There have been three deaths and 77 people hospitalized. Cooper said during a Friday afternoon press conference that there is widespread community transmission of the virus, which is why he signed the order.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Cooper said. “Although we are physically apart, we must take this step together in spirit. Even if you don’t think you have to worry about yourself, consider our nurses, doctors, custodial staff and other hospital workers who will be stretched beyond their capacity if we are unable to slow the spread of this disease.”

The executive order will be in effect for 30 days. If there are counties that already have stay at home orders, whichever one is more strict is the one residents have to comply with. All orders are enforceable by law, and Cooper said at the press conference that not complying with the statewide order is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said of detaining individuals who don’t follow the order. “But we want people to know that this is a serious order.”

Read the full text of the order below.



EO121 Stay at Home Order 3 (Text)