Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that North Carolina will move into the first phase of his three phase plan to reopen the state’s economy. Some have criticized Cooper’s plan as moving too slowly. The culmination of that criticism has been a series of weekly protests in Raleigh, organized by a group known as ReOpenNC.
At a May 5 press conference, Cooper claimed that the protesters have had no influence on his reopening plan. But changes between the original version of the plan and the actual version that went into effect on May 8 suggest that may not be the case.
A little background
Like most governors of all political stripes across the nation, Cooper responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by issuing executive orders in March that closed down segments of the state’s economy and put strict guidelines in place for the business that remained open. These efforts were an attempt to “flatten the curve,” meaning the disease would not spike rapidly and overwhelm the state’s hospitals and healthcare systems.
The state’s hospitals have not been overwhelmed by the pandemic. With that most immediate concern out of the way, the economic burden of the executive order shut downs are weighing heavy.
Facing mounting pressure, the governor announced his plan in late April, giving an outline of the three phases and the metrics required to move from one phase to the other. Some have justly criticized the phases for moving too slowly and the metrics for being too vague.
But the protesters and those who support their position have cause to be encouraged that their efforts seem to be paying off, even if the changes are not as large as they might hope.
Phase One changes
When the governor announced his three phase plan, he provided power point slides on what the different phases would entail. As I highlighted on the Civitas Institute Instagram story – which you can follow here – the initial Phase One proposal was not much different from the status quo stay at home order.
Phase one as outlined in the governor’s April 23rd press conference. Full slide deck available here: https://governor.nc.gov/news/governor-extends-stay-home-order-through-may-8-plans-three-phase-lifting-restrictions-based
Phase one as outlined in the governor’s April 23rd press release. Linked here: https://governor.nc.gov/news/governor-extends-stay-home-order-through-may-8-plans-three-phase-lifting-restrictions-based
By May 5, when the governor made the announcement that Phase One would start that week, the content of the Phase itself looked a little different. Most notable was the addition of the outdoor gatherings provision. Phase One will allow gatherings of more than 10 people if they happen outside and take proper social distancing measures. In the press conference, the governor specifically mentioned that this would allow for outdoor worship services and protests. This was not mentioned in the Phase One outlines put out on April 23rd (See above).
Phase One as presented in the governor’s May 5th press conference. Full slide deck available here: https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/NCDHHS_PhaseOne.pdf
Another notable difference was in the governor’s language around the business openings. In the first press conference and materials, the governor says that people can leave home for nonessential purposes, mentioning the reopening of retail stores as an afterthought. In the May 5th conference and documents, the governor emphasizes that businesses can reopen as long as they’re not on the list of specifically closed businesses (such as gyms and hair salons).
This may seem like a subtle distinction, but I would argue that the governor is wise to highlight the parts of his plan that help the economy, even if many still believe the plan doesn’t go far enough.
Phase One also extends the capacity limits for retailers that are open from 20 percent to 50 percent – a provision that was not mentioned when the governor initially rolled the plan out.
One could make the case that the second version of the plan is simply a more detailed version of the initial outline. But the change in tone to emphasize business reopening and the specific acknowledgement of the outdoor worship and protest provision implies that the governor is feeling pressure from ReOpenNC and its supporters across the state.