COVID-19, News, Policing, race

Cooper: NC National Guard to address unrest, focus on de-escalation, listening

After a night of violent protests, Governor Roy Cooper said as many as 450 guardsmen would be available to North Carolina cities with the focus on protecting public structures.

In a rare Sunday press conference, the governor said he had spoken directly with the mayors of Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Fayetteville and granted their request for state support. He also urged the mayors to work with their local police departments to prioritize de-escalating tensions.

“We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets in the first place,” said Cooper.

Governor Cooper says leaders must create an open dialogue with protesters outraged by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“Racism, excessive use of force, health disparities, poverty, white supremacy. These are wrong. They are ugly. But they are present.”

The governor also revealed that he had spoken with Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, who lives in Hoke County.

“While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name.”

The governor said while this is a painful moment for North Carolina and the nation, we must constructively channel our anger to force accountability, fight racism and create thriving communities for everyone.

COVID-19, News

Governor Cooper extends moratorium on evictions, utility shut-offs

Governor Roy Cooper took action Saturday to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs and evictions as the state works to combat further spread of the coronavirus.

“North Carolinians need relief to help make ends meet during the pandemic,” said Governor Cooper. “Extending housing and utility protections will mean more people can stay in their homes and stay safe as we all work to slow the spread of this virus.”

The Executive Order received full support from the Council of State, according to the governor’s office.

“North Carolinians want to pay their rent, but for far too many people – through no fault of their own – that’s just not possible right now,” said Attorney General Josh Stein in a press release. “We are in unprecedented times that call for unprecedented action. I support Gov. Roy Cooper’s extension of the moratorium on evictions to ensure that people do not face homelessness in the midst of this health and economic crisis.”

Here’s more on how the new order will impact will impact North Carolinians struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

The Order’s utility shutoff moratorium:

  • Continues effective immediately and lasts 60 days;
  • Prohibits utility disconnections for all customers;
  • Prohibits billing or collection of late fees, penalties, and other charges for failure to pay; and
  • Extends repayment plans at least six months, and sets the default term for repayment to six months for cases when the utility and customer cannot agree on the terms of an extended repayment plan.

The Order’s evictions moratorium:

  • Is effective immediately and lasts for 3 weeks;
  • Would prevent landlords from initiating summary ejections or other eviction proceedings against a tenant for nonpayment or late payment of rent;
  • Prevents landlords from assessing late fees or other penalties for late or nonpayment;
  • Prevents the accumulation of additional interest, fees, or other penalties for existing late fees while this Order is in effect;
  • Requires landlords to give tenants a minimum of six months to pay outstanding rent;
  • Requires leases to be modified to disallow evicting tenants for reasons of late or nonpayments; and
  • Makes clear that evictions for reasons related to health and safety can take place.

As May draws to a close, North Carolina has recorded 27,673 positive cases of COVID-19 with 1,185 new cases reported Saturday.

Commentary, COVID-19

Utility shutoff moratorium, protections from other fees and debts are essential while crisis continues

Image: Adobe Stock

In this time of crisis, all of us need to be looking out for our families and neighbors, protecting and helping our brothers and sisters in every way we can. After all, we are our brothers’ keeper. Our response must be based on compassion, morality, and care for our communities—values rooted in our shared faith traditions. To that end, one essential, immediate step the Governor must take is to extend the moratorium on utility disconnections – currently set to expire on May 30—until this emergency is over.

For the past couple of months, we have shared a common faith that we can work together to support each other as people began getting sick and dying from COVID-19, as businesses closed down, jobs were lost, and families began struggling to weather the economic crisis. And the twin storms of pandemic and unprecedented job loss have hit Black and Latinx communities disproportionately hard.

While 22 percent of North Carolina residents are African American, Black people account for 31 percent of all COVID-19 infections and an alarming 36 percent of all related deaths. Hispanics account for about 10 percent of the state’s population but more than 35 percent of infections. These disproportionate outcomes mirror the unfair poverty levels that people in these demographic groups experience–over twenty percent of all African Americans and about a quarter of all Hispanics live at or below the poverty line compared to only one-tenth of white families. As has been widely reported, long-term structural racial inequality in education, health care, and wealth too often force Black and Latinx residents to take on the low-wage, manual, and often public-facing service jobs that are still deemed “essential” at a time while much of the population is asked to stay at home.

While our Governor is taking steps toward slowly reopening businesses, we all must recognize that it will be many months before hundreds of thousands of households of all racial and ethnic backgrounds will be financially stable enough to afford basic necessities like rent and utilities. One data point that drives this home is that more than 425,000 households could have already lost one or more vital utility services, such as access to clean water, electricity, or gas due to being unable to pay their bills over the last two months. While this data is not reported by race, it is likely that a disproportionate number of households struggling to pay their utilities bills are also within Black and Latinx households. Even before the pandemic, within households at or below the Federal Poverty Level, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration has shown that in our region, African American households more often experience shut-offs of essential electricity service than their white counterparts. Read more

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, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill begins sharing “Roadmap for Fall 2020,” details about return to campus

UNC-Chapel Hill has launched a new “Carolina Together” website to begin sharing details from its “Roadmap for Fall 2020” as questions mount about a return to campus August 10.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced the site with a YouTube video Thursday afternoon.

Among the new details shared on the website are information about on campus housing and dining.

“Residence halls will operate at normal capacity, with a limited number of rooms held for residents with immunocompromised conditions as approved by Accessibility Resource and Services,” according to the site. “Roommates in residence halls will be treated as a single household and, for this reason, will not be required to wear a mask while inside their dorm room, although they are expected to wear masks or face coverings in common areas and outside of their rooms where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain. We are expecting full occupancy in the residence halls made available this fall.”

The question of face masks — and whether they will be a “requirement” or an “expectation” as part of the university’s “community standards” — has not been clear in the last few weeks. The site does not definitively answer the question.

Masks will be “required” during move-in, the site says, but “should be worn” on campus in all group and public settings, according to the website. The site refers to mask “standards and policies to be developed for students, faculty, staff and visitors” but those do not appear to have been developed yet.

“The University will provide face masks to students, faculty and staff who do not have their own masks or other appropriate facial coverings,” the website says. “One Universityissued mask will be given each week and should then be disposed of.  If the mask becomes damaged or visibly soiled, we will provide a new face mask. Individuals may wear their own cloth masks or face coverings if they prefer. Cloth masks or face coverings should be washed daily, and the fabric design or pattern should be appropriate for the classroom and the workplace.”

In a joint Chancellor’s Advisory Committee/Faculty Executive Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, Guskiewicz told faculty he wasn’t sure the university would be able to actively enforce the wearing of masks on campus.

“If a student is not following community standards is it a violation of the honor code?” Guskiewicz said. “We’re not there yet … I doubt we can even go in that direction.”

The site also outlines the campus’ plan to use two dorms to separate students who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.

For more information on the campus’ plans, see the full site here. The university says it will be updated frequently as plans for the Fall unfold.

Policy Watch will continue to report on COVID-19 related plans for UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System as they are announced.