Gov. Roy Cooper has lifted North Carolina's COVID-19-related state of emergency on Aug. 15.
In a July 11 press release, Cooper said the new state budget allows the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to have the same pandemic response flexibility as it had under the state of emergency.
Some of the aforementioned powers include waiving rules for beds in nursing homes to expand capacity and allowing ambulances to continue having one emergency medical technician on board instead of two.
Locally, the state of emergency's expiration has consequences outside of public health,
including changes to regulations on how councils and other governing bodies are able to meet.
According to Chapel Hill Town Council member Adam Searing, the council will begin meeting in person following the expiration — something they had not done since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have a lot of controversial decisions we're considering and I think being able to see how many people are interested in these decisions in person and hear from people in person really makes a difference,” he said. “I think it’s really time to get back to that.”
Due to state law, Searing said, councils are prohibited from holding “hybrid” meetings — meetings where some members are physically present, while others are attending remotely through a service such as Zoom.
Searing added that smaller subsidiary committees may want to keep meeting either completely virtually or in a hybrid format. He said such committees are not limited by state law in the same way that councils are and are permitted to hold virtual or hybrid meetings.
According to Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, boards and commissions will continue meeting remotely for now while the Town works on hybrid models going forward.
Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said that while the Carrboro Town Council has already returned to in-person meetings, some committees want to continue having the option to meet virtually.
“There has continued to be interest, especially among our volunteer advisory board, in having flexibility around virtual meetings,” he said. “There’s been a sense in which that's almost made those meetings more accessible to more people.”
Seils further added that Carrboro Town staff, alongside the Town’s attorney, are evaluating new legislation to see if there’s room for local governments to "craft their own rules" regarding virtual meetings.
Although the state of emergency has lapsed, Seils said there have been some positive changes in emergency response stemming from the pandemic.
“I think there's a lot clearer lines and more open lines of communication around emergency response in the county,” Seils said. “If we need to respond again, or if for some reason, to go back to a state of emergency of some kind, we know and understand the structures for doing that better than we did before.”
In an email statement sent to The Daily Tar Heel, NCDHHS underscored its continued efforts in combating the spread of COVID-19.
"NCDHHS remains committed to responding to COVID-19 and moving North Carolina forward from COVID-19, as outlined in the Moving Forward Together plan," the department said in the statement.
The plan focuses on prioritizing equity and empowering people to make informed decisions based on their risk level, alongside collaborating with local health care providers and maintaining emergency response capacity in hospitals and care centers.
The department further emphasized that COVID-19 vaccinations are still the best protection from severe illness and death and are available for anyone 6 months and older. Information on where vaccinations are available can be found by visiting the NCDHHS website.
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