‘It Can Happen Here’: Gov. Cooper Warns NC Risks Repeating Turmoil In New York, Italy

North Carolina coronavirus state of emergency

NC Gov. Roy Cooper. (Image via screenshot)

By Billy Ball

April 21, 2020

Hours after a few hundred rallied in North Carolina’s capital to protest the state’s social distancing orders, Gov. Roy Cooper promised specific details this week on his administration’s plans to eventually lift its COVID-19 orders. 

“We understand that we can’t stay at home forever and that this is not something that is sustainable long term,” Cooper said. “But we have to ease back into it to make sure that this virus does not spike, which it very easily can do, overwhelming our hospitals. You only have to look on TV to see what happened in New York and in Italy and know that it can happen here.”

Cooper acknowledged the “frustration” of some of North Carolina’s 10.5 million residents, but he seemed to urge patience.  

“We are working to ease restrictions in a responsible way, in a staged way,” the governor said.

Cooper’s stay-at-home orders are set to expire at the end of this month, although it’s unclear whether he will extend those orders into May.

Protesters with the “Reopen NC” movement argued that their social liberties are at stake.

Organizers did not respond to Cardinal & Pine requests for an interview as of Tuesday afternoon.  

Epidemiologists told Cooper’s administration this month that lifting those orders entirely could triple the risk of coronavirus infections and double the possibility that NC’s hospitals are overrun in May.

Dr. Linda Brown, a senior epidemiologist with the nonprofit RTI International, which aided in this month’s study of NC’s COVID-19 cases, restated that case in an interview with Cardinal & Pine Tuesday.

Brown had this to say when asked about some protesters’ assertions that the social distancing orders are worse than the virus itself: “I don’t think they would think it’s worse than the disease if they or someone in their family was was put on a ventilator in a hospital or died. If it hits them or their families or people they love and know, it would be a different story.” 

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of NC’s Department of Health and Human Services, echoed Cooper’s calls Tuesday during a press conference with reporters.

“What we do now determines when and how we can ease our social distancing policies,” Cohen said. “Keep staying home to save lives.”

Cooper also joined with Republican legislative leaders Tuesday announce a tentative agreement on budgeting additional funds for small businesses through the state’s Golden Leaf bridge loan program. 

In a joint statement with state House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson and Cooper, NC’s leaders promised a “substantial” allocation, to be worked out before the start of the new legislative session, which is set for April 28. 

The program provides low-interest loans for up to $50,000. 

“The program has proven to be efficient and effective,” they said in their joint statement. “It helps employers access capital quickly while they apply for federal Small Business Administration assistance or other commercial loans. … We know that this program is already oversubscribed and want to assure small businesses that more help is on the way.”


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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