Opening more businesses this month isn’t ‘off the table,’ Cooper says

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that opening more businesses this month is not “off the table” even as he and other state leaders say they’re concerned by recent trends with the spread of COVID-19.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported the largest single-day increase in positive COIVD-19 cases Friday, with 1,768 people testing positive. The previous one-day high was 1,370 on June 6.

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Friday she believes the state may be seeing signs of a “first wave” of COVID-19 cases, noting the state did not experience a surge in cases in the time leading up to and during the stay-at-home order.

“I know people are tired of this virus. It’s been hard on everybody. But, it’s still deadly and we can’t let our guard down,” Cooper said.

DHHS also reported a new high Friday in the number of tests completed in one day, with results from 21,442 being reported.

“The high number of new cases is not just related to more testing. These numbers show the disease is spreading,” said Cooper.

Cohen pointed to the upward trajectory of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. On Thursday, the state reported a new peak of 812 people in the hospital, which dropped to 760 on Friday.

She said, “With the percent positive, which is also increasing, makes me have the conclusion that we are not just picking up cases because we are increasing testing but also because we are seeing more viral spread.”

Cooper said he hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to move the state into the next phase of reopening. The current executive order lasts until June 26. He’s floated the idea of moving into what he calls phase 2.5, but it’s not clear what that would entail.

In Phase Two, various businesses remain closed such as gyms, bars, movie theaters and entertainment venues like bowling alleys.

“We’re looking at it over a period of time, and we are looking at the trends. There has not been a decision made about either one of those at this point. Neither one of those phases is off the table,” he said.

Melanie Campbell’s family owns Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center in Clayton. Bowling alleys like hers were originally part of Phase Two, but Cooper decided not to include them in an attempt to limit the number of “high-risk” activities that could resume at one time.

Campbell said she and other managers have taken a variety of steps to get ready to reopen when the time comes. They’ll only have customers on every other lane, will ask customers to leave their shoes and bowling balls at the lane when they’re done to be disinfected, have installed plexiglass at counters and marked off six feet of space where customers will check in.

“We can be just as clean as any other sport,” said Campbell. “Our customers and our staff, their health is a big concern. We want to make sure everybody is safe and able to play safely.”

Campbell is also president of Bowling Proprietors of the Carolinas and Georgia. On Friday, South Carolina allowed bowling alleys to open. Georgia opened them in late April.

Campbell’s organization has filed a lawsuit against Cooper in an effort to reopen. A hearing is scheduled on June 19. They also developed a manual and best practices guide for bowling alleys to use.

It’s been “nerve-wracking” waiting to hear when her business will be able to reopen, Campbell said, and whether that will be part of the next phase of reopening.

“We hope and pray that we’re a part of that, and we’re fighting for that. But, we do have a feeling that it could be pushed back. And, that’s very disheartening,” she said.

This week, the General Assembly passed a bill to partially reopen gyms and bars with outdoor seating. Cooper vetoed a previous bill to reopen bars, saying it limited his authority to put restrictions back into place if there’s a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The latest bill would require him to get concurrence from the Council of State to do that. Some Democrats who voted against the bill pointed out the council is comprised mostly of Republicans, who could take authority from Cooper.

The governor didn’t say Friday if he would sign or veto the latest bill. He did say it makes the process “more clumsy.”

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