There is enormous pressure for Gov. Cooper to loosen North Carolina’s economic lockdown and get people back to work while protecting public health. The scientific data that led to an unprecedented economic lockdown across the country was imprecise. Further, that data is still changing. However, lives were at risk and we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for perfect data. In much the same way, North Carolina can’t wait months for millions of tests to be conducted to get working again.
Gov. Cooper has received broad public support during the crisis, according to Civitas polling showing at its peak, 84% of likely voters gave his administration high marks on handling the virus crisis.
But North Carolina is now moving to a new phase and must move rapidly. The public is clamoring for a sense of direction. They require measurable progress on moving toward life as it was. Some folks want an immediate lifting of all restrictions.
There are some things Gov. Cooper should do now, but certainly no later than April 30.
Cooper should follow South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who lifted restrictions he placed weeks ago on retail stores in the state, including clothing, furniture, and jewelry stores. Under McMaster’s directive, department stores and flea markets can reopen along with crafts, music, shoe, and bookstores.
Any store that reopens must abide by previous directives, limiting occupancy to five customers per 1,000 square feet.
The directive will not, however, allow inside dining at restaurants or lift the “stay at home” executive order that asks South Carolinians to work remotely if possible.
South Carolina, along with other states such as Kansas, is moving quickly from having criteria for “essential businesses” to a plan for “safe businesses” that allows the entire commercial community to perform their functions in a manner safe for their employees and customers.
Alan Cobb, president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, has presented a detailed plan to open all businesses safely. Gov. Cooper would be wise to adopt much of this plan.
Georgia is also following a safe businesses plan. Gov. Brian Kemp outlined plans on April 20 to allow “gyms, bowling alleys, salons, and some other indoor facilities” closed under his shelter in place order to resume operations by April 24 if they meet safety standards.
On the same day Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that his stay-at-home order will not be extended past April 30, and that some businesses around the state will begin reopening next week.”
“For the good of our state, social distancing must continue, but our economic shutdown cannot,” Lee said at his Monday afternoon briefing. Restaurants, which were banned from in-person dining, will be allowed to reopen on April 27 if they meet guidelines his office will release later this week. Theaters will also be covered by those new standards. Bars and nightclubs will stay closed.
As North Carolina is the home of NASCAR, Cooper must allow the Coca-Cola 600 to be run Memorial Day weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans in attendance, or camping on the premises. The 600-mile race is one of the premier events on the NASCAR schedule.
Gov. Cooper should stop hiding behind the talking point of having more testing before lifting the current restrictions. “More testing” is not a plan. Last week Cooper said, “In order to ease restrictions, the state needs to make more progress in three areas: testing, tracing and trends.”
But this talking point is not informative to citizens or businesses. Gov. Cooper needs to talk about trigger points for reopening the economy, with the data he is provided. What do the tests have to show? What percentage of the population needs to have had the virus and recovered? What do infection rates and recovery rates need to be to trigger certain types of reopening activity?
Why does it take vastly more information to reopen than it did to close North Carolina’s economy in the first place, despite the fact the predictions on the number of deaths, hospitalizations and ventilator use were vastly over-inflated?
If the governor insists on using testing and tracing capacity as a measurement to reopen, he must transparently say what those measurements must show for us to begin getting our lives back.
However, if Gov. Cooper takes some initial steps and lessons from other states, we nominate him to drop the green flag at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend. That flag will signal the start of the race and signify to the world that North Carolina is taking sensible steps to returning fully open for business, recreation, and life as we used to know it.