Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, along with other state officials, sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday urging him to hold a Council of State meeting to further discuss reopening the state's economy following coronavirus-related shutdowns.
The letter was co-signed by six Republican members of the North Carolina Council of State, including Forest, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and Treasurer Dale Folwell.
“We all understand that shelter-in-place cannot exist forever,” the letter states. “With the rest of the Southeast, and the majority of our country, already providing structure and clarity to struggling businesses and workers, North Carolina is lagging in communication.”
Under Cooper's current executive order, the state will be in Phase 1 of coronavirus recovery until at least May 22.
Although this phase allows retail stores to open at half capacity, it still includes a stay-at-home order, limits most gatherings to 10 people and prohibits dine-in restaurant service.
Cooper said this phase may be extended if certain coronavirus-related metrics show an increased need for concern in the coming days.
Causey said he signed the letter because he wants the Council of State to meet with the governor to discuss what reopening will look like as the state moves past Phase 1.
“Some of the other Council of State members and myself just want to know what plans are going forward,” Causey said. “Every day I hear from people across the state that are very worried and concerned about their livelihood, and they’re concerned about the economy.”
Causey said the North Carolinians he has heard from seem to be more worried about economic effects of coronavirus than the current plan reflects.
“I don’t think you can paint all the counties with one broad brush,” he said. “North Carolina is too big and too diverse for that.”
On May 14, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., hosted a phone-in town hall to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and response effort. He said more businesses should be allowed to reopen, as long as they abide by various health precautions.
“These businesses, if allowed to open, need to be diligent in wearing masks and abiding by social distancing,” Tillis said during the town hall. “If we do that, we can open businesses safely.”
Berry also said she thinks the economy can safely reopen.
“When you look at what’s going on right now, you’ve got all the big stores open and operating,” she said. “But you can’t tell me that a small business person can’t operate as safely as a Walmart. A Walmart may have thousands of people in a week go through their store, but a small business person would have far fewer people”
Berry also said she wants to see more consistency in reopening policies.
“We are all in the same big storm that is going on around us, but we’re all not in the same boat,” she said.
Berry would like to see the state reopen as soon as possible, she said, so normal life can resume as soon as possible.
“People shouldn’t be afraid,” she said. “They should just accept personal responsibility for their own health concerning this virus right now because the guidelines are good guidelines. I believe that our business community, after 20 years of experience dealing with them, I believe they can open up this economy.”
Berry said people who are afraid of COVID-19 should have faith in themselves, and practice personal responsibility in regard to their health.
Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said the letter seemed to her as an attempt by the Republican Party to use the pandemic to gain political capital.
“It seems like Republicans are using this tragedy as a political opportunity, and I think that’s disappointing,” Insko said. “The economy is very, very important, and I think that there are ways for us to move towards reopening and getting our economy going again.”
Insko said before the state can reopen completely, North Carolina needs to increase coronavirus testing frequency.
“Other countries have shown that they can test a lot more than we can, and we’re supposed to be the richest, most productive and the smartest nation in the world,” she said.
Overall, Insko said she is impressed with the way Gov. Cooper has handled the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think, given the circumstances, he’s doing the best he can do," Insko said. "I’m proud of how patient, calming and available he is to the public.”
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