COVID-19, News

Cooper announces new eviction protections

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its deadly toll and wreak havoc with the North Carolina economy, Gov. Roy Cooper took new action today to attack one of the pandemic’s most vexing side effects: residential evictions. Cooper said his new order is in response to confusion that has surrounded a September moratorium on evictions issued by he Centers for Disease Control on the same subject. Full details on Cooper’s new action, what it does and does not do can be found in the announcement below.

Click here to view a document exploring key frequently asked questions (and answers).

Today, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 171 to strengthen eviction protections to help North Carolina renters stay in their homes. With COVID-19 case counts increasing and many people continuing to work and learn remotely, preventing evictions is critical to the state’s fight against this virus. This order supplements the existing NC HOPE initiative started two weeks ago that pays landlords and utilities directly to keep people in their homes with the lights on.

“Many families are trying to do the right thing, but this virus has made it difficult. Roughly three to 400,000 households across North Carolina are currently unable to pay rent. Therefore, today, I have signed a new Executive Order to prevent evictions in North Carolina for people who can’t afford the rent,” said Governor Cooper. “The result during this global pandemic will be more North Carolinians staying in their homes, more landlords getting paid rent, and fewer utility companies shutting off power.”

The economic toll of COVID-19 has left thousands of families struggling to make ends meet. According to a report from the National Council of State Housing Agencies, approximately 300,000 – 410,000 households across North Carolina are currently unable to pay rent, and an estimated 240,000 eviction filings will be submitted by January 2021.

Last month, the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) put a temporary residential eviction moratorium into effect nationwide from September 4 through December 31, 2020. The CDC order protects residential tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent. However, confusion over who this order protects has caused inconsistent enforcement and unwarranted evictions in some parts of the state.

Executive Order No. 171 requires landlords to make residential tenants aware of their rights under the CDC Order. For eviction actions commencing after Executive Order No. 171, landlords must give residents the option to fill out a declaration form before starting any eviction action.

The Order also sets forth procedures to ensure protection for residential tenants once they provide the required declaration form to the court or to the landlord.

Executive Order No. 171 also clarifies the CDC moratorium so that it clearly applies to all North Carolinians who meet the CDC’s eligibility criteria, regardless of whether they live in federally-subsidized properties. The Order ensures that recipients of the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program are still able to qualify and that these renter protections will apply to North Carolinians regardless of the CDC Order’s status in other courts.  Read more

COVID-19, News

New lethal virus projections offer bad news for key electoral swing states like NC

The Center for American Progress reported the sobering news this morning that the election will conclude next week at the same moment that the COVID-19 pandemic is spiking. What’s more, several key swing states like North Carolina will be among the hardest hit. This is from the news release the group distributed:

The election will occur in the midst of skyrocketing, exponential spread nationally, and in particular, in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

We used the Oliver Wyman Navigator model to estimate the percentage increase in daily new cases (7-day average) from October 1 and this past Sunday (October 25) through November 3 and November 15. This model is among the most accurate, with a mean absolute percent error (MAPE) of only 1.5 percent for U.S. projections. Further, we believe this model is well calibrated: applying the summer’s epidemic curve to September’s baseline yields approximately the same incidence as the model in early November.

Nationally, the U.S. is projected to hit 125,000 new cases per day in mid-November. In the states examined, in the month leading up to November 3, new cases are projected to have more than doubled. From October 25 onward, in these states, new cases are projected to rise by 26 percent by November 3 and to skyrocket by 82 percent by November 15. Every state examined is projected to experience an astronomical spike between now and November 3 through November 15.

In the month leading up to November 3, new cases are projected to have more than doubled in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. From October 25 through November 15, new cases are projected to more than double in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio.

The Center also distributed a series of graphs that chart the expected spikes for several states (see North Carolina’s below). One can only hope that voters take note of this sobering reality as they cast their ballots — both to stay as safe as they can and to inform their votes.

 

 

COVID-19, News

NC prison termed “deadliest of all federal facilities” for COVID-19 in new lawsuit

Image: Adobe Stock

With the aid of a major international law firm, a pair of civil rights organizations sought immediate assistance today for inmates endangered by the COVID-19 pandemic at a North Carolina federal prison.

As the release below from the ACLU of North Carolina spells out, the plaintiffs say the federal prison complex in Butner has become the “deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic”:

CHARLOTTE – In response to intensifying COVID-19 outbreaks at the federal prison complex in Butner, North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Winston & Strawn filed a class-action lawsuit today seeking adequate medical care for people incarcerated in Butner Federal Correctional Complex. The lawsuit is asking for the rights of people incarcerated to be protected and conditions be made safe for those who remain in custody amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Corrections institutions have continuously failed to take even the most basic life-saving measures to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19 — nowhere is this truer than Butner, which has been the deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic,” said Maria Morris, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Prisons and jails are the sites of the biggest hotspots for COVID-19 everywhere in the country. If the courts don’t intervene to mitigate the humanitarian crisis unfolding, they will be responsible for the lives lost.”

Plaintiffs claim that people who need medical care for issues other than COVID-19 also haven’t been able to access it during the pandemic, a violation of their rights. The lawsuit also states that everyone who has died from COVID-19 at Butner had a known medical condition that made them more vulnerable to the virus, yet officials didn’t take adequate steps to protect them, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

“More than 1000 incarcerated persons at Butner have been infected with COVID and 27 have died,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “This was avoidable had the Bureau of Prisons taken steps to reduce the population to allow for physical distancing or implemented well-established and widely published infection control practices. The failure to do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus continues to today. The callous indifference to the health and safety of persons who are held in the facility is shocking.”

John Dailey, who died of COVID-19 in early July, represents one such instance of the failure of prison officials at Butner to protect incarcerated people. John was sick for weeks before he was evaluated. By the time they took him off his housing unit to be evaluated, his condition had already deteriorated so much that he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.

“The government’s inaction to save lives in Butner is unconscionable, but we believe there’s still time to rectify the situation,” said Em Harwell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’ve seen people die from COVID-19, like John Dailey, before even getting any medical attention. Quite literally, there are lives that rest in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. For thousands of people, acting now is better late than never.”

The new lawsuit comes after a U.S. district court judge denied a preliminary injunction in a previous case in May. The ACLU of North Carolina has an ongoing lawsuit in state court to release and protect people currently incarcerated in state prisons.

Link to lawsuit here: www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/sites/default/files/scarantino.pdf

COVID-19, News

States struggle to draft COVID-19 vaccine plans while in the dark on details, funding

Image: Adobe Stock

WASHINGTON — Across the hundreds of pages of plans that state officials sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on distributing and tracking the yet-to-be-approved COVID-19 vaccines, there are more questions so far than answers on how exactly vaccine programs will be carried out.

Yet states will be on the front lines for a far-reaching vaccination initiative expected to cost in the billions, as the nation registers more than 8.3 million COVID-19 cases and 221,000 deaths. The federal government still has not done its part either, with additional vaccine funding stalled as Congress and the White House extend months-long talks over a new relief deal.

A review by States Newsroom of a dozen state plans found, for example:

  • Virginia officials outlined millions of dollars in anticipated costs, but they don’t yet have the money to pay for them.
  • Those in Arizona flagged that small rural clinics will need smaller allotments of the temperature-sensitive medications than the 1,000-dose increments expected in one scenario—a situation that seems likely to play out across states.
  • Colorado leaders cautioned that their phased plan for prioritizing who gets the vaccine doesn’t yet address children and pregnant women, because they haven’t been included in vaccine trials.
  • North Carolina’s draft plan specifically highlights the fact that a large percentage of the state’s residents have expressed skepticism about becoming vaccinated.

And how exactly will states ensure that their residents return for the second dose of what’s expected to be a two-part vaccine? Officials in Ohio and other states say they’re working on it, through a combination of PR campaigns, postcards, text messages and help from the providers that will be administering those shots.

States are emphasizing that the initial documents they filed last week are just that: Drafts that will be updated repeatedly as it becomes clearer which vaccine is likely to make it through the approval process first and as the CDC releases more guidance on who should be prioritized for the initial doses.

Some, including Pennsylvania and Minnesota, have so far declined to publicly share their draft plans, citing the need for further revisions and feedback from the CDC.

“It is important to understand that this plan will be continuously enhanced and adjusted to the various needs during each vaccine distribution phase,” said Maggi Mumma, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Health. “It is better to look at this as a framework.”

CDC deadline

The initial state plans for the massive logistical undertaking were due to the CDC on a fast timeline, only a month after the administration released its initial COVID-19 vaccination playbook. As those plans were being filed, the National Governors Association sent a long list of questions to the Trump administration, seeking more details on what states can expect when it comes to vaccine distribution, tracking and additional money to pay for those efforts.

“We need to answer these questions before the vaccine is available so that we are ready to go and no one is caught flat-footed when the time comes to vaccinate people,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a public statement accompanying those questions. Read more

COVID-19, News

As COVID deaths top 4,000, state leaders press local officials to help drive down the numbers

DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen

North Carolina officials have grown increasingly alarmed this week at the quick rise in COVID-related infections and deaths.

On Wednesday, the state surpassed 4,000 COVID-19 deaths, with 98 of those fatalities being recorded just since Sunday.

More than 1,200 people are hospitalized because of the coronavirus, and that number that has exceeded the 1,000 mark since October 5th.

Some smaller hospitals are feeling the strain.

Noting that the state is moving in the wrong direction as we approach fall and winter, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Department of Public Safety sent a letter leaders in 36 counties Tuesday asking them to consider local actions to improve compliance with the governor’s executive orders. The letter reads in part:

“We need everyone’s leadership in this moment talking about wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing their hands,” said Governor Roy Cooper.

The governor singled out Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp, who reversed course this week in announcing his deputies would begin citing businesses where workers were not in compliance in wearing face coverings.

“More and more law enforcement across the state are beginning to recognize that it is important for them to play a role in enforcement,” said Cooper.

The governor said retail establishment and restaurants should also step up enforcement of the three Ws when they see people not abiding by the health guidelines.

“Ignoring the virus does not make it go away,” reminded DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen.

Cohen said over the past two weeks North Carolina has seen more COVID clusters from social gatherings such as parties, family gatherings, weddings, and funerals.

Current guidance from the state calls for no gathering to exceed 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.

“There are places that need to work harder than they are because we see the virus spreading a lot,” Cohen cautioned.

October’s rise in COVID cases has led the state to pause any additional loosening of restrictions for at least another three weeks.

Learn more about the spread of COVID  in your county by visiting the state’s dashboard.

Social gatherings have sparked a rise in COVID cases since September. (Source: NCDHHS)