Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday afternoon (April 30th) that he believes the state will be ready to move into phase one of his 'reopening' plan for removing restrictions on businesses by May 8th when the current extension of the stay-at-home order expires.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the Dept. of Health & Human Services (NCDHHS) presented slides showing that the state has now achieved a 'green light' on two of four criteria for moving into that phase.
Gaston County Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck held a news conference Wednesday morning declaring that businessess in that county could reopen at 5 PM yesterday, but he backtracked on his statement later. Cohen said at the news conference: “Gaston County leadership supports the reopening of Gaston County. Staying home is not a solution. People need to go back to work.”
Philbeck noted that the number of new cases in the county has slowed and that a majority of those who had COVID-19 have now recovered. He said the potential for the hospital to be overwhelmed no longer exists, and that CaroMont Regional Medical Center is ready to handle routine matters since COVID-19 cases are fewer than might have been expected.
Just hours after the news conference, the County issued a signed order that somewhat contradicted what Philbeck appeared to be suggesting. The second paragraph of that document read:
“GASTON COUNTY RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES ARE STILL SUBJECT AND RESTRICTED BY ANY AND ALL OF THE GOVERNOR’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS UNLESS AND UNTIL THEY EXPIRE OR ARE OTHERWISE REPLACED, RESCINDED, OR ELIMINATED.”
The County's Public Information Officer issued a news release that said:
“Gov. Cooper’s staff has rightly pointed out today that in response to Gaston County’s new order, it acknowledges that the state order supersedes our own.
Philbeck was insistent on getting the last word. He said later Wednesday,
"In spite of the Governor’s order, we support and will stand with those that want to open their businesses and go to work."
“I’m willing to take a stand to defy the Governor’s order,” Philbeck said in a Facebook post. “Gaston County is open for business.”
Sheriff Alan Cloninger said he would enforce the Governor's order because "it's the law. Businesses that violate it can still face a Class 2 misdemeanor."
Wednesday afternoon, the mayors of towns in Gaston County confirmed that they will continue to obey the Governor's order and do not encourage anyone to break the law.
Gov. Cooper’s office addressed the issue in a statement Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the revised Gaston County order was sent out.
Ford Porter, a spokesperson for Cooper, released a statement about Gaston County's order saying:
"This order’s only effect is to create confusion during a public health emergency, which is dangerous. The Gaston County order itself says that the statewide stay-at-home order remains in effect, and state leaders urge people to continue following it."
NCDHHS Secretary Cohen also responded to questions during a press conference:
“We’re in a crisis, and I think confusion is really, really damaging during a crisis. The governor’s exectutive order is still in place, it still stands; we’re still asking folks to stay home to slow the spread of the virus and save lives.”
Cooper was asked about the Gaston County order at the Thursday briefing. He said, "we all need to work together.I have concerns when people blatantly ignore rules--because it can cost lives. We believe that most people are doing what we've asked. You can remove all restrictions, but people are still going to have concerns about their safety. We are basing our decisions on science, on evidence, on facts. Safety is our top priority."
Multiple protests have been held in Raleigh by the group ReOpen NC. A local group, ReOpen Lincoln County, will hold a protest which they are calling a 'community assembly event' this Saturday (May 2nd) from 11 AM - 2 PM in downtown Lincolnton. Their post about the event says its purpose is for gathering to petition for the opening on a county level. Both Lincoln & Gaston commissioners had sent letters to Governor Cooper asking him to turn decisions on business restrictions, etc. over to the individual counties.