Editorial: Much remains the same after Gov. Roy Cooper’s new order

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Gov Roy Cooper summed up his announcement Tuesday about the state entering phase one of “reopening” when he said he was not lifting his stay-at-home order.

There are some differences, but much remains the same, including the threat of COVID-19.

At 5 p.m. Friday, a new order with slightly more lenient language goes into effect. While people may have, for example, been able to host drive-in church services before, language is more explicit in the new order. Most businesses can open, which was the case previously as long as they practiced social distancing. The order encourages people to go outdoors as long as they do not form mass gatherings.

Other things are new entirely, including that it’s OK to attend small outdoor social gatherings at another person’s home if there are fewer than 10 people. Retail stores are now allowed to have 50% of their fire capacity. But the basic premise of Cooper’s order remains identical. As a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to the Post, “We recommend that people stay at home and continue to practice social distancing.”

“This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating,” Cooper said in a news release.

Also like the current order, which expires on Friday, local law enforcement will need to enforce the new guidelines. Sheriff’s deputies and police officers will be forced to continue making judgment calls about an order with a wide latitude for exceptions rather than enforcing clear-cut rules.

Think of the judgment call as similar to the decision officers make when faced with someone going 5 mph over the speed limit. If speed is the only reason for a traffic stop, chances are the person won’t get a ticket. And if a gathering this weekend has 15 people instead of the 10-person limit in the order, a warning is likely in order rather than a misdemeanor charge.

No one, however, can mistake Cooper’s announcement on Tuesday as an indication that COVID-19 is no longer a threat to the health of North Carolinians.

State officials clearly see positive trends in North Carolina’s data, but the charts presented during the announcement showed the trajectory of new cases increasing rather than a decline over 14 days or a “sustained leveling.” Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said more testing is the reason for the increase in cases. And while it’s certainly the case that there is more testing being done in the state, it’s not clear whether that testing is occurring across the state — in rural areas in addition to more populated places. Hospitalizations are rising steadily still rather than declining or stabilizing.

In Rowan County, nearly 16% of tests are coming back positive, a far cry from statewide charts that show a 7% positive rate. A lower positive rate, state officials say, indicates adequate testing. Meanwhile, the number of positive cases increased by 30 here on Tuesday, and it does not appear those are tied to a nursing home outbreak, which too many use as a crux to say new cases don’t matter.

Cooper said it well Tuesday when he stated, “We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward.”