County health officials favor COVID-19 education over enforcement after state leaders urge more action

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — None of the counties in the area that received a letter from Gov. Roy Cooper urging them to adopt more local regulations to slow the spread of COVID-19 have immediate plans to do so.

CBS 17 News contacted the health directors for the eight counties in the viewing area that received letters asking local leaders to take additional action that would improve compliance with existing executive orders that deal with face coverings and limits on crowd gatherings.

Health directors from Cumberland, Nash, Hoke and Edgecombe counties responded to requests for comment from CBS 17 News on Thursday, after Johnston, Wake and Wayne counties responded Wednesday night. The only county not to respond was Moore County.

The letter also urged those local leaders to ramp up their educational and awareness campaigns — the “Three Ws,” for example — and the health leaders were willing to embrace those plans moreso than adding local ordinances. 

Nash County Health Director William Hill said his county is “looking more at the promotional and educational opportunities.

“I think when you get into the regulatory functions, you’ve got to, one, look to your higher boards for those kinds of adoptions, ordinances, county ordinances, and those kinds of things,” he said. “Those decisions will be made above my salary grade, at a commission or human services board recommendation level. But right now, the regulatory or county ordinance portion is on the back burner and we’re trying to see if we can do more with making citizens aware that they need to stay vigilant.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that it had sent letters to leaders in 36 counties — all of which met at least one of the following metrics:

— 300 new cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks and has been identified as a county of concern by the White House’s task force.

— A rate of cases greater than 50 per 10,000 people.

— One of the three most populated counties in the state.

The letters were sent after DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and other state leaders held a conference call late last week with representatives from those counties.

Ordinances from city and county governments may carry more flexible penalties like fines. The letter lays out several examples of additional local actions, including the issuance of a local emergency proclamation with standards that exceeds those of the state and supporting the local health director to issue and enforce an Imminent Hazard Abatement Order against entities whose actions present “an imminent hazard to your community” by not complying with the executive orders.

“Our commissioners and our governing body, they’re not interested in any civil fines or anything,” Hoke County Health Director Helene Edwards said. “With the messaging, they want us to continue to do the messaging, promotion and doing that, and then getting a handle on it, try to get a handle on it that way.”

Cumberland County Health Director Jennifer Green said she forwarded the letter to county commissioners because they would be the ones responsible for implementing any ordinances.

“We want to make sure they we provided them the letter, that they knew they had the same information that we had,” she said, “and it will really be up to them to make that decision.”

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