Cooper eases into reopening

  • Gov. Roy Cooper explains the steps in the Phase I modification to his Stay At Home Executive Order.
    Gov. Roy Cooper explains the steps in the Phase I modification to his Stay At Home Executive Order.

Clay County residents will see a slight lifting of COVID-19 restrictions put in place March 27 by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Stay At Home Order. Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, May 8, retail businesses may open at a lower capacity; however, there is still no dine-in allowed in restaurants.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Cooper outlined Phase 1 of a three-phase plan designed to transition into opening up our state’s economy while protecting its residents from the disease outbreak.

“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state and Phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” said Cooper. “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 the Stay At Home order is still in place, but the modification removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses. Retail businesses are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity and will be required to direct customers to stand 6 feet apart, perform frequent cleanings, provide hand sanitizer when available, screen workers for symptoms among other criteria. While residents are still encouraged to stay home as much as possible, the order allows people to leave their homes for commercial activity at any business that is open.

Certain businesses remain closed, including bars, personal care businesses, entertainment venues and gyms. Restaurants may only continue to serve customers for drive-through, take out and delivery, he said.

All workers at retail and other businesses are recommended to wear cloth face coverings. Teleworking is still encouraged for businesses that can practice it. Cooper said small outdoor gatherings will be allowed in Phase 1, gatherings of more than 10 people generally are still prohibited. The order encourages cloth face coverings to be worn when outside the home and in contact with others.

Clay County Rec Park opened to seasonal campers on Friday and Gibson Cove is set to open May 15. Playgrounds remain closed. During Phase 1, childcare facilities will be open to serve families of parents who are working or looking for work.

Centers will be required to follow strict cleaning protocols. Summer day camps can operate in compliance with North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, but no overnight stays are allowed. When asked what concerns him about the pandemic as we move into Phase 1, Cooper replied, “What would concern me is people beginning to not take this seriously.”

On the local level, Pam Roman, executive director of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce also expressed concern about the public being proactive in keeping our community safe as the state starts to open up. “I am a little apprehensive about this opening up and I am hoping that county residents will take special caution when we do start to open. I am very hesitate about opening the chamber too early because the people who will be entering the chamber will be visitors from other states and we won’t know anything about where they have been or who they have been with,” Roman said. “When we do open, which I am planning on after the 30th of May, we will be checking temperatures and handing out face masks if they do not have one of their own.”

The modified order remains in effect until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. However, the end of this order does not necessarily mean the state will move to Phase 2. Phase 2 will only start if data and indicators are in the right place, according to Cooper. In North Carolina there are 12,758 confirmed cases, 477 deaths and 516 hospitalized. There have been 164,482 tests given for COVID-19, according to NCDHHS May 6 statistics. All 99 counties in North Carolina are reporting at least one positive case.

Last Tuesday Clay County Commission Chairman Rob Peck posted a two page letter on Facebook he had penned
to Cooper on behalf of the board asking for more local control. “We appreciate your consideration of our request for a regional or local lifting of restrictions based on relevant data,” Peck wrote at the end of the letter after citing data that showed our “key metrics” are headed in the right direction. “As of today [April 28] Clay County has tested 283 residents. We have had 252 negatives, six positives and 25 tests are pending. Of our five positives, four have completely recovered and we anticipate a fifth being released in the coming days. Clay County has not had any deaths from COVID-19. With an estimated 11, 500 residents, only .05 percent of our population has tested positive with coronavirus.” Peck wrote.

As of Tuesday, May 5 our health department reported that Clay County had eight residents test positive with 276 negative out of 304 tested. Five of those cases were reported as recovered, with three determined active. “You have also placed an emphasis on testing and tracing capacity to include tests completed per day, ability to conduct widespread tracing and supply of personal protective equipment. The state goal is to ensure the continued ability to identify COVID-19 exposures while keeping our frontline workers safe,” Peck continued. “Both are very
valid and important objectives. Clay County has shown the ability to do these very things.”

Among other criteria, Peck cited the county’s ability to trace contacts, quickly quarantine and respond with coordinated testing as evidenced by the health department’s testing of 178 staff and residents at the Clay County Care Center. All returned negative.

Hayesville Mayor Harry Baughn reminded the public that precautions still need to be taken as we ease into
the open-up process. “There is no easy way to re-open our economy. When restaurants are allowed to have dine-in, the restrictions will still hurt their business as only having 50 percent of your customers allowed in, cuts their income by 50 percent,” Baughn said. “If people would be responsible enough to wear masks and frequently wash hands, many of these restrictions could go away with some measure of safety. But the sad reality is that people will not take these precautions.”

He also agreed that decisions made on a more local level would be helpful. “I do feel that local/ regional decisions are better suited as our rural area is so much different than the larger population cities in North Carolina and I hope that the governor will start letting more decisions to be made locally,” Baughn said.

It seems there’s one thing everyone from the governor to the chamber director agree on. Precautions should continue.“We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward. When you leave your home, follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands and wait 6 feet apart,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.