Thursday April 23, Gov. Roy Cooper extended North Carolina’s economic shutdown until at least May 9. He further announced North Carolina would take a slow phased-in approach of re-opening the state, and only if certain testing metrics are met.
Reaction was swift across the state.
Union County Commissioners were quick to criticize the governor for going too slow and not allowing counties to make their own decisions.
Commissioner Frank Aikmus expressed frustration in an interview with Civitas. “To say I am disappointed is an understatement.”
Shortly before the announcement Union County Commissioners sent a letter to Gov. Cooper begging him to allow their county to reopen.
The letter, signed by all five commissioners, reads in part, “Please re-open North Carolina. And when you do, please continue to support each county, city, and community with good data, essential funding, impactful research findings, and quality public health support. But please allow Union County, and each county, to determine how best to deploy those resources for the well-being of their own residents.”
Sounding more heartbroken than angry, Union commissioner Jerry Simpson told Civitas, “We continue to drag our feet despite the evidence, and we are doing more to harm our economy by hunkering down than taking common sense steps to get moving again.”
Simpson added that Union borders South Carolina, and now with that state opening up, Union County along with all 14 of the county’s municipalities face a devastating loss of sales tax revenue, among other issues.
“We are fiddling while Rome burns,” added Simpson.
Commissioner Aikmus said he believes Cooper is ignoring the data that says it’s time to reopen North Carolina, and he wonders if politics is clouding his view.
“I can’t help but think this has now become political, maybe they want to hurt Trump, hurt the Trump economy. There is simply no longer a need to shut down the entire county or state. At some point counties are going to get fed up and say hell with the governor and open back up and then we will figure out what is constitutional and what is not.”
“The data in Gaston County, the capacity at our hospital and the information from our health department does not support the continued shutting down of our businesses and our churches,” Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck told the News and Observer. “I cannot justify what the governor is doing to our citizens.”
In the Greenville Daily Reflector, U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, a Pitt County urologist and surgeon, also criticized Cooper’s decision. “I think we have a wealth of indicators that tell us we can begin using safe measures to slowly reopen segments of our economy,” Murphy said. “Today’s unemployment rate measured 20 percent compared to the Great Depression unemployment rate of 24.5 percent in 1929. Unemployment creates poverty and poverty creates despair. I fear if we continually push reopening down the road, we may pass a point extremely difficult to return from.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called Cooper’s plan in line with recommendations from the White House.
“While families and small businesses are hurting,” Tillis said, “the worst thing that could happen is for us to have a significantly worse second spike that results in more loss of life and forces another shutdown of our economy.”
President of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, Yadkin County Commissioner Kevin Austin told Civitas counties are dealing with vastly different situations and are having reactions that are “all over the map.”
“Everyone wants to take a responsible approach. Some counties are taking a stricter approach than the state and some want some relief,” said Austin.
“I thought there was going to be some more concrete lifting of restrictions, and I know some Commissioners are disappointed by that. There had been some discussion of regional lifting of restrictions and that did not happen and that is disappointing for a lot of people.“
Robeson Commissioner Tom Taylor, a proud Democrat and volunteer Fire Chief said he has been frustrated by the slow pace of outfitting North Carolina’s first responders. He told Civitas that he also thinks the Cooper administration is moving too slow in getting Robeson, one of the state’s poorest counties, back to work.
“We have had hurricane after hurricane. And this is not going away after six months. I just don’t know how much more we can take.”
Davidson County Commissioner Zak Crotts told Civitas he is frustrated by Gov. Cooper’s go slow approach. “He did not give any substance. He was vague. I think closer to May 8 he will extend it for another two weeks. People in Davidson County want to open our state, with some safety guidelines, and precautions. They want to go to barbershops. They want to go places and do things. The other states around us are moving along, I can’t figure out why he is moving so slow,” said Crotts.
State Senator Warren Daniel (R-Burke) tweeted the coming reality for many small business owners:
“I think the takeaway from the Governor’s briefing today is that the eat-in restaurant industry is essentially going away. They can’t survive with a continued shutdown through June 1 or later. Barbers, hair salons, gyms, and other shuttered businesses will also be in jeopardy.”