‘Rely On The Science’: Cooper Says NC Won’t Loosen Coronavirus Restrictions Before May 22

Gov. Roy Cooper, flanked by Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, talks coronavirus in this May file photo.

By Sarah Ovaska

May 12, 2020

Cooper and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen emphasize a measured approach to reducing social distancing orders, despite pressure from protesters.

North Carolina is just four days into its first phase of relaxing its stay-at-home orders and there’s already plenty of pressure to do more.  

But Gov. Roy Cooper reiterated Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to further loosen coronavirus-related restrictions before May 22, at the earliest. And that will only happen if his state health officials see the number of daily positive cases and hospitalizations drop while the capacity to test and trace infections increases. 

“We are going to rely on the science, the data and the facts that we have set out in order to tell us when we go into phase two,”  Cooper said in a media briefing Tuesday. “We know we need to boost the economy… but you can’t boost the economy until people have confidence in their safety.” 

RELATED: That Order Keeping NC Meat Plants Open Could Get Workers Killed, Advocates Say

North Carolina, under Cooper and his health secretary Mandy Cohen, have taken a more measured approach to lifting restrictions than many of its Southern neighbors in what’s become an increasingly politicized approach to the ongoing public health crisis.  That’s evoked criticism from “ReOpen NC” protesters, that are appearing in the state capital of Raleigh weekly, as well as Republican lawmakers that have criticized Cooper’s approach. 

North Carolina moved into its first of three phases of backing away from pandemic-related closures Friday evening, a move that allowed the reopening of state parks and trails as well as non-essential retail stores. But churches and places of worship remain closed, unless outdoor services can be held with people adhering to the advised 6 feet of social distancing.

Phase 1 of reopening NC, according to Gov. Cooper’s office.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, gyms, barbers and nail salons are back open, even with warnings that Georgia hospitals don’t have enough available beds to treat a potential wave of new infections, according to a report published Tuesday by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity.

Toll of disease continues 

North Carolinians are still getting sick, and dying, from the highly-contagious novel coronavirus that first appeared in the state in early March.  

As of Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 15,346 positive COVID-19 tests. All but one of North Carolina’s 100 counties have reported cases. 

A total of 577 people has died from the disease as of Tuesday, representing a huge increase from a month ago.North Carolina had reported just 81 deaths this time last month. The deaths have also disproportionately affected people of color, with Black North Carolinians accounting for 36% of victims despite making up 22%of the state’s overall population. 

The disease has spread rapidly in places where people are in close quarters –the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities; prisons and jails; and pork and poultry meatpacking plants that are major sources for the nation’s food supply.  

RELATED: Those Fringe ‘Reopen’ Protests Are Getting Coverage They Don’t Deserve

There have been other signs of the disease’s damage, with record numbers of people out of work as business and restaurants shuttered to slow the disease’s spread. More than 861,000 have filed for unemployment benefits so far, with a portion – 500,000 – getting relief. That leaves 361,000 people waiting. 

Cooper said he’s pushing his administration at the N.C. Department of Employment Security to do more, with staff working nights and weekends to process applications.

“They know they need to do more and to work harder,” Cooper said Tuesday. 

Cohen also explained more Tuesday about the state’s approach to testing and tracing to track the disease’s spread. 

Anyone who wants to be tested for a COVID-19 infection should now be able to at no cost by reaching out to primary care doctors or county public health departments.

RELATED: Why COVID-19 Death Rates In Rural North Carolina Are Staggering

If a person tests positive, he or she will remain isolated while specially-trained contact tracers gather information about those they’d had contact with and then urge those people to also be tested.

The goal is to quickly evaluate who might have been exposed to the disease, and stop it from spreading further, she said. 

“It is a collective effort across this whole state and if we can act together, that’s what’s going to allow us to make it through these next couple of weeks,” Cohen said.

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