RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As some business owners plan to reopen in defiance of Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive order that goes into effect Friday, the governor says the number of positive COVID-19 tests drove his decision not to include some businesses in phase two of reopening.
“I think the vast majority of people and the vast majority of law enforcement officers doing their constitutional duty are stepping forth, and I just hope that people can pull together and do the right thing,” Cooper said in an interview with CBS 17.
When Cooper outlined his three-phase plan in April, phase two originally called for businesses such as bars and gyms to be able to reopen at limited capacity.
As outlined this week, phase two will allow restaurants, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, pools, child care facilities and camps to open.
When asked why he made the decision not to include other businesses in phase two, Cooper said, “Although our indicators were good, the numbers for positive cases continue to increase. So, we wanted to scale back a little bit.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the number of positive COVID-19 tests has continued to trend up as the state has increased its testing capacity. The percentage of those COVID-19 tests that are positive has been around 7 percent for much of May.
“Because the numbers don’t look as good as we want them to look, we didn’t do everything we had anticipated in phase two, and I think some of those (activities) are more high-risk,” Cooper said.
Leaders of ReOpen NC have called on businesses to open Friday regardless of whether they were included in phase two.
Some owners of gyms and fitness centers have started a Facebook page seeking support for a lawsuit.
“We made this cautious step in order to be able to boost our economy, but at the same time keep people safe. And, I think it was the right combination and right move at this time,” said Cooper.
As CBS 17 reported Wednesday, Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist and expert at RTI International, said she would prefer “a minimum of 14 days” of data be collected before making any decisions.
North Carolina entered into phase one on May 8, which allowed more stores to open at 50 percent capacity.
MacDonald has been part of a team of researchers advising state leaders by developing models trying to predict the spread of COVID-19 and the impacts of social distancing.
“There are so many different factors to look at and we just need to be tracking all of this with time to get a better understanding of where we are with the outbreak,” MacDonald said.
One trend that MacDonald called “worrisome” is the growing number of cases.
The decision to move to phase two came only four days after the state set a single-day high with 853 confirmed cases, and the seven-day rolling average peaked Tuesday at 622 before slipping to 615 Wednesday, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
As businesses remain closed, people are relying on unemployment benefits during the crisis. As of Thursday morning, 922,821 people had applied for benefits, according to the NC Division of Employment Security. Of them, 565,970 have begun receiving payments, which is about 61 percent of those who applied.
More than two months after the closures related to COVID-19 began, CBS 17 is still hearing from people who have struggled to get their claims processed either through the DES website or the call center.
When asked what more he’ll do to improve that system, Cooper said, “More people are being added to the call center. More employees are being added to the department. More training is occurring. We’re all pushing forward. I’m pushing this department to do better. What’s happened so far is unacceptable for those people who are hanging by a thread.”
Cooper also addressed the upcoming Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to take place in late August in Charlotte.
There are questions about how the convention will proceed amid the pandemic.
In a recent interview with the Washington Examiner, President Donald Trump said, “We have a great state, North Carolina, that’s been very, very good. Although, it’s got a Democrat governor, so we have to be a little bit careful. It’s got a Democrat governor, so we have to be a little bit careful with that because they’re playing politics. They’re playing politics, as you know, by delaying the openings.”
When asked about whether the convention will be able to go forward as planned, Cooper said, “It’s really too early to make that decision. We’re in May now. That’s something that’s going to happen in August. It’s going to depend on what our numbers look like and whether we can have those kinds of events. We’re talking to all kinds of businesses that want to be able to hold sporting contests and concerts with spectators. We’re certainly talking to them about planning for those kinds of things safely. But, we won’t be able to make decisions about whether we can do them until we know what the numbers look like closer to that time. And, I’d put that event in the same category.”