Gov. Cooper: “still too early to tell” if North Carolina can move into Phase 2 of reopening on May 22

Gov. Roy Cooper was non-committal Wednesday when asked if North Carolina is on track to enter Phase 2 of his plan to reopen the economy
Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 2:46 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - Governor Roy Cooper remained non-committal on Wednesday when asked if North Carolina is on track to enter phase two of his plan to reopen the state’s economy and lift restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Don’t want to predict that at this point, Jon, because we just don’t know at this point, and that’s the reason you step back and look at it for 14 days," Gov. Cooper said in an interview with WECT’s Jon Evans. “I don’t want to create any kind of false expectation or false dread for people.”

Gov. Cooper said during a news conference Tuesday that it would not be likely that North Carolina would move into the second phase before May 22, the earliest date for the transition according to his plan to lift restrictions. In Phase 2, businesses like restaurants, bars, fitness centers and salons can open to customers while following safety protocols and potentially limiting capacity.

Here is a transcription of Jon’s interview with Gov. Roy Cooper:

Jon Evans: “Governor Cooper, thanks for taking the time to join us. You said during your news conference yesterday that it’s not likely North Carolina is going to enter Phase 2 earlier than May 22nd, your original timeframe. As things look right now, would you say it looks good for that to happen on the date you originally put out there?”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “Jon, it’s still too early to say because its very important for us to look at trends of all of these indicators over a 14-day period. You can get some anomalies if you look at day-by-day. But I will say the percentage of positive tests is continuing to go down, our hospitalizations have remained steady. So those are good indicators, and a lot of the credit goes to the people of NC, who have been working on staying at home, keeping their social distance, wearing cloth face coverings, washing their hands. Those are the kinds of things that are going to help get us through this and slow the spread of the virus. We’re grateful to see those numbers day-by-day, but we’re going to have to make that call sometime next week, and we will be relying on the data and the evidence and the health experts about when to enter Phase 2.”

Jon Evans: “You did say yesterday that the numbers for North Carolina look good. So, is it a fair statement to say then, that unless something worsens, we’re on track to possibly get in to Phase 2?”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “Don’t want to predict that at this point, Jon, because we just don’t know at this point, and that’s the reason you step back and look at it for 14 days. I don’t want to create any kind of false expectation or false dread for people. Remember that we want to boost the economy. We want to do more things to get people engaged. But I think that health and the economy go hand-in-hand, and we won’t be able to boost the economy unless people have confidence in their safety. One of the things that will give them confidence is to make sure that we are making decisions based on the data that we see and I think the indicators that we put forth are important. I’ve been pleased that we’ve begun to ramp up our testing, which is good. We wanted to be between five and seven thousand, and we’re doing a little better than that over the last couple of days and we want to continue that. We’re going to have more and more places where people can get tested across the state, and tomorrow I’ll be talking a little bit about that in my press conference. Testing and tracing is an important part as we go through these phases, because in order to keep people safe, we’re going to have to find out who is positive, and try to get them isolated and try to trace their contacts, make sure they’re tested and if they’re positive, get them isolated. those are the things that we’re going to have to be doing a lot of as we go through the phases and try to get back to some sort of normal, which we know it’s going to have to be a normal with the virus that is still around until we get a vaccine. I think people are learning more and more about how to handle this, and I hope that we can be successful as we move forward.”

Jon Evans: “You talked once governor about looking at a regional concept for re-opening, and you didn’t do that. The reason I ask why you didn’t is, especially down here along the coast, Brunswick County has added 16 cases in the past month. Pender County has more cases in the correctional institution than in the rest of the county. Those counties really rely on a lot of tourism businesses. Why not allow counties like that to reopen some of the restaurants and tourism-related businesses sooner than maybe some of the metro counties?”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “We know this virus does not respect county lines. We know a lot of these counties are places where people work, people live, where people go to shop. They live in one place and work in another. We’re keeping that regional option on the table. We know that a place like New Hanover (County), where a lot of the surrounding counties people would go into New Hanover for a lot of reasons. So,we’re going to try to get through, into Phase 2. That will allow many more businesses to open. Already in Phase 1, we’ve eliminated essential/non-essential businesses, so there are a lot of businesses that are open right now. I think the real key to boosting our economy is making sure people feel safe when they go out. You’ve got a lot of people at home who are concerned, and they want us to rely on the data and the evidence. We think it’s important to keep this statewide floor for right now.”

Jon Evans: “We’ve heard a lot, governor, from business owners in counties that border South Carolina, restaurant owners and the like who are saying ‘some of my customers are going into South Carolina, and I’m losing business because South Carolina opened restaurants and allowed dine-in'. What do you say to those business owners?”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “Well, we have to keep safety at the forefront, and it’s important for people to feel safe before they patronize restaurants. We know that when people are inside and there are more than ten people and people are stationery for a long time, there is a much greater chance to spread the virus. The health experts here looking at our data don’t believe yet that it is time to open in-room dining in restaurants. If we can get to Phase 2, that will be done in a careful way. But North Carolina has been successful in flattening the curve and limiting the number of people who’ve died, and that’s because health experts have prevailed here in North Carolina and we’re making good decisions based on that.”

Jon Evans: “This morning, governor, I saw that California’s State University System is looking at cancelling most in-person teaching for the fall semester. Do you have a fear that North Carolina might not be able to open its university system, community colleges or K-12 public schools in the fall?”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “We aren’t there yet. Right now, the health experts are working with educators to plan what our K-12 schools will look like in the fall when they open up. What our universities and community colleges will look like when they open up. We know things will have to be different because the virus will still be here and we want to keep people safe. But right now, the plan is to try to open up our schools and universities and community colleges in the fall, and we’re working on trying to do it in the safest way. We will again be looking at the numbers for our state, the indicators that show us how widespread the virus is, how many people are getting sick and how many people are in the hospital. So those calls will have to be made when we get closer. But there’s a lot of planning and a lot of hard work going into various meetings and conferences that are trying to look at what our schools and universities and community colleges will look like in the fall. I’m hopeful that we can get people back in school and back to work as soon as we possibly can.”

Jon Evans: “Governor Roy Cooper, we appreciate your time, I know you are tremendously busy, appreciate you spending some time with us. Thanks again.”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “Thanks Jon.”

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