LUMBERTON — Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order has the support of at least one of the state lawmakers who represent Robeson County in Raleigh.
“Based on the data coming in from across the State of North Carolina, out numbers are increasing, like other areas of the country,” Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat, said Friday. “I think his order is the right thing to do at this time. It’s better to do it now then to look back two or three weeks down the road and say we should have done it earlier.”
Cooper issued his executive order on Friday as one more attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. It takes effect at 5 p.m. Monday and will last 30 days, unless extended or rescinded. The order also will prevent people from leaving their homes except for work that’s considered essential, to get food, going to the doctor or exercising. Also banned are groups of more than 10 people, and individuals who are outdoors are asked to stay 6 feet apart.
Graham praised residents of Robeson County and the state for doing what they need to do to protect themselves and to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Still, there is a lot of travel taking place in the county and the state, and it is best to act now in order to protect the people, he said.
“We don’t know what could happen in the future,” Graham said.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate, also supports Cooper’s action.
“We are all in this together, and in order to protect the health of North Carolinians and get through this crisis as quickly as possible, we must all do our part to contain community spread over the next several weeks,” Tillis said. “I’ve had discussions with Gov. Cooper about the challenge of protecting both the physical and economic health of the state, and the governor made the difficult, but correct decision to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
“I’m glad this order allows essential industries to continue their important work while also providing flexibility to North Carolina businesses that are able to practice social distancing and maintain a safe and healthy work environment to protect their employees and the general public.”
North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey also took action Friday to ease any financial hardship state residents may be enduring during the pandemic.
Causey activated an emergency declaration that will defer insurance premium payments for residents in all 100 counties, according to the Department of Insurance. The order is a result of President Donald Trump’s March 25 Major Disaster Declaration for the State of North Carolina. North Carolina law allows the commissioner to issue a deferral order once a major disaster has been declared by the president.
The commissioner’s order applies to all insurance companies, including health insurance, residential property and automobile insurance, according to the DOI. The order also applies to collection agencies, motor clubs and premium finance companies licensed by the North Carolina Department of Insurance. The order will defer not only premium payments but also will defer statutory time requirements. Notices of cancellation, for example, will be deferred.
Once the deferral expires, policyholders will be required to bring their payments current to avoid cancellation.
“My hope is this deferral will provide policyholders breathing room while they get back on their feet as a result of economic hardships due to the COVID-19 health emergency,” Causey said.
The restrictions in Cooper’s latest executive order, which affects 10.5 million residents, largely mimic what large counties, such as Mecklenburg and Wake, and cities like Durham and Winston-Salem issued earlier this week. Violations of the statewide order will be considered a misdemeanor crime.
Cooper already had issued statewide orders that shuttered K-12 schools through mid-May, banned mass gatherings of more than 50 people, told restaurants to stop dine-in service and closed hair salons, gyms and movie theaters. These closings and restrictions have led to an historic spike in unemployment claims.
“Being apart from family and friends is difficult,” Cooper said at a news conference. “Losing your job or closing your business has to be difficult. But we have to act now in the safest, smartest way while we have the chance to save lives. It is truly a matter of life and death.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services announced more than 760 positive COVID-19 cases statewide as of Friday morning and three deaths. More than 200 of the cases are in Mecklenburg County and more than 100 in Wake County. More than 75 people are hospitalized statewide, according to the department.
Two cases have been reported in Robeson County.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up within three weeks. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for older adults and people those with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover.
Groups representing hospitals and doctors had urged the Democratic governor earlier in the week to issue statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place directives. They were worried an expected surge in cases could overwhelm hospitals and endangered health care workers. But the leader of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce said a statewide prohibition that covered most businesses needed to be a “last-ditch resort.”
The statewide order does provide a broad definition for an essential business or nonprofit that can keep operating as one that can maintain social distancing between employees or between employees and customers.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, recommended earlier Friday random sample testing for COVID-19 in North Carolina to evaluate the prevalence of the virus before adding more restrictions.
“If the true data supports the most stringent measures, then presenting that data to the public will increase compliance and confidence in government,” Berger said in a release.
Rep. Graham objects to Berger’s idea and would rather see greater access to testing.
“I do support more access to testing, more drive-through testing site,” Graham said.
He would like to see three or four satellite sites for people who don’t have transportation or are dependent on family members for transportation and for people who don’t have private health-care givers, he said.
“I’m not sure about random testing, but we need more testing,” Graham said.
Without mentioning random testing, DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said “we do not have the luxury of time.”
“We must act quickly, based on what we do know to slow the spread,” she said. “If we do not act pre-emptively to slow the virus right now, many people will get sick at the same time, which could overwhelm our medical system.”
With more than 80% of the state’s hospitals reporting, North Carolina currently has 7,200 empty hospital beds and 725 empty intensive care unit beds, according to DHHS.
The latest reported death is of a Johnston County resident. The resident was in his or her mid-60s and underlying medical conditions, the county said in a news release. Cabarrus and Harnett county residents also have died. A fourth person from Virginia who died of COVID-19 complications in North Carolina is not in the state’s official count.
Overall, people age 25-49 account for nearly half of the positive cases in North Carolina, with about a quarter assigned to patients age 50-64, DHHS data shows. Children under 18 account for 1% of the cases.