Trump tweets, NC awaits GOP Convention plans
Gov. Roy Cooper and his public health team are awaiting information from the Republican National Committee for how the political organization would stage its convention in August amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump called out Cooper in a series of tweets on Monday, threatening to move the event from Charlotte unless the governor could guarantee full attendance in the Spectrum Center, where the Charlotte Hornets play.
I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020
Cooper said Tuesday at a briefing with the media that he was not surprised by anything he saw on Twitter but did not mention Trump by name.
“We’re continuing our discussions with the RNC and going to continue to put health and safety at the forefront,” Cooper said. “We have asked them to present a plan on paper to us, laying out the various options that we’ve already discussed orally. They know that we’re talking about a time that is three months from now so we have to have options regarding how this convention is going to be run depending on where we are with the virus in August.”
Cooper and his health team asked for similar plans from NASCAR, which worked with state and Mecklenburg County public health officials to stage the Coca-Cola 600 race this past Sunday without spectators in the stands.
The governor said his public health team would review any plans submitted by the RNC and offer feedback.
“I hope that we can find some kind of reasonable accommodations, but we’re not going to sacrifice the health and safety of North Carolinians,” Cooper said. “That’s the bottom line.”
North Carolina has seen an increase in the number of lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in recent days, with Saturday’s day-over-day increase of 1,107 new cases, the highest one-day total yet.
The state also saw its highest day for people hospitalized over the three-day holiday weekend, reporting on Monday that 627 people were in hospital beds across North Carolina. That number had dropped to 621 by Tuesday.
Cooper and his team have stressed that decisions they make as most businesses are being allowed to gradually reopen are based on science and data with the public’s health in mind. Politics, he has stressed in the past, cannot be the guide.
“I will say it’s OK for political conventions to be political,” Cooper said. “But pandemic response can’t be.” — Anne Blythe
Two race tracks, vastly different crowd approaches
Ace Speedway, a racetrack in the tiny Alamance County community of Altamahaw, filled its stands Saturday with several thousand people paying little attention to social distancing rules.
Robert Turner, the speedway owner, expressed his frustrations in an interview published in the Burlington Times-News last week after Gov. Roy Cooper announced the safer-at-home reopening phase not set to expire until June 26.
“People are not scared of something that ain’t killing nobody,” Turner told the Times-News. “It may kill .03 percent, but we deal with more than that every day, and I’m not buying it no more.
“I’ve got a business to run and a job to do, and when I can’t run my business and I can’t go to my job and make a full paycheck, I’m in jail already. So getting behind bars does not scare me. I’m going to speak my piece, and we’re going to do something.”
In the opening of their briefing with the media on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, mentioned the Coca-Cola 600 put on by NASCAR on Sunday with no spectators in the stands. The race was televised live for sports fans hungry to see any kind of competition in real-time after going more than two months with no basketball, baseball and any of the other sports typically broadcast at this time of year.
“NASCAR ran the Coca-Cola 600 without spectators and used appropriate social distancing, face covering, hand hygiene and signage,” Cohen pointed out. “They took precautions seriously and had a great event that was enjoyed by millions. Let’s all take the precautions that NASCAR did.”
In contrast, the Alamance speedway pulled in several thousand spectators with photos and video showing few people wearing face coverings or standing or sitting six-feet apart from each other.
“It is dangerous and reckless to try and draw a crowd,” Cooper said in response to a question about the event. “And I hope and pray that no one gets sick, or even dies, from that gathering that occurred this weekend.
“We hope that that doesn’t happen, but the way to prevent that kind of thing is to not do it. We’re deeply concerned about that kind of activity and people who live in an area where this kind of thing draws people from potentially surrounding states and surrounding counties.”
Local law enforcement officers did not stop the event from happening, and Cooper added that his team was looking into other possibilities for preventing such action from happening again, perhaps stepping in as a state when local law enforcement does not.
“We’ve been very pleased across North Carolina with the way people have been complying,” Cooper said about his executive orders issued during the coronavirus pandemic. “The few that do not, obviously, get the most attention.
“But the vast majority of businesses, citizens who are complying, the law enforcement officers who are sometimes reluctantly issuing citations after they go and talk to people about how they’re violating the order — we’re seeing all of those positive things across our state. I think it continues to be important that that occur.” — Anne Blythe
NC is in top 10 with 60 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in long-term care
North Carolina exceeds all but six other states in its share of COVID-19 deaths among long-term-care residents, according to a ranking by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
And as North Carolinians celebrated Memorial Day weekend under state-loosened restrictions, 21 more people who had lived in long-term care facilities in the state died of COVID-19, bringing that count to 463 deaths during the pandemic, according to state Department of Health and Human Services statistics released Tuesday.
At a reported 63 percent of long-term care deaths in the state’s grim overall tally as of May 19, KFF reported, North Carolina ranked seventh on a list that few states would want to join.
The top 10 according to KFF (with percentages following the state name) were: Minnesota, 81 percent; Rhode Island, 78 percent; New Hampshire, 77 percent; Connecticut, 70 percent; Delaware 65 percent; Kentucky, 64 percent; North Carolina, 63 percent; Massachusetts, 61 percent; Pennsylvania, 61 percent; and Mississippi, 60 percent.
Tar Heel State deaths in nursing and assisted living centers once again accounted for more than 60 percent of overall coronavirus fatalities, according to Tuesday’s DHHS listing of coronavirus cases in long-term care. That’s lower than the percentage KFF found, but would still have put North Carolina in the ten states with the worst records.
North Carolina faces rising COVID-19 case and death counts in the midst of the introduction of Phase 2, or the “Safer at Home” phase of a much-debated reopening plan. Health officials recommended making a slower adjustment in weeks to come.
“After two weeks in Phase 1, the state’s overall key indicators remain stable, but the continued increases in daily case counts signal a need to take a more modest step forward in Phase 2 than originally envisioned,” DHHS said in a Tuesday statement. — Thomas Goldsmith
New state pandemic recovery office
Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that his team has developed plans to begin distribution of the $150 million in federal aid to county governments.
The federal government has approved some $3.56 billion in coronavirus pandemic-related aid for North Carolina, some of which was included in a $1.5 billion plan unanimously approved by the General Assembly in May and signed into law by Cooper.
Cooper said the spending plan he submitted to the legislature called for $300 million in aid to be designated for counties and municipalities.
The plan adopted by the General Assembly appropriates $150 million for counties, which have the flexibility to share with towns and cities.
By the end of the week, Cooper said, the state will have processed payments for 59 counties for a total of $85 million, without specifying which ones would be first to get the aid.
“We expect more counties to submit requests soon,” Cooper said. “This money is crucial for local governments to help pay for health and public safety officials, telemedicine, personal protective equipment and more.”
In announcing the distribution, Cooper also announced a new North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office. The office was created, Cooper said, to oversee the distribution of state and federal money in response to COVID-19.
The team will offer technical assistance for governments and groups that receive relief funds and oversight for how the money is allocated.
The office also will be part of assisting the state’s strategic economic recovery, Cooper said, as the state works to rebuild.
“In conversations with our congressional delegation, and the president and the Vice President, I’ve shared that our state needs more help, but we also need more flexibility in how that money is invested,” Cooper said.
“Because of the economic effects of this pandemic, state and local government are losing revenue that support our schools, our law enforcement, our EMS and other critical services.”
Governors from across the country, from both political parties, Cooper said, have been urging the federal government to do more to help states.
“I’ll keep working with our Congressional delegation from here in North Carolina to help make that happen,” Cooper said.
In a news release posted after the media briefing, Cooper announced who would lead the office.
Stephanie McGarrah, who hails from western North Carolina, will serve as executive director of the coronavirus recovery team. She worked with North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) to assist in finding health care workforce shortages across the state and working on solutions to address them.
Her resume also includes a stint as vice president of policy at the North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA). From 2007 to 2013, McGarrah also was assistant secretary at the state Department of Commerce. — Anne Blythe
Coronavirus by the numbers
According to NCDHHS data, as of Tuesday morning:
- 766 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
- 24,140 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 621 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections on a given day and does not represent all of the North Carolinians who may have been in the hospital throughout the course of the epidemic.
- 14,954 people who had COVID-19 are presumed to have recovered. This weekly estimate does not denote how many of the diagnosed cases in the state are still infectious.
- More than 350,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed COVID-19 tests is likely higher.
- Most of the cases (44 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 19 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 84 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
- 143 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
- There are 3,121 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 741 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.
Mental health moment – Singing to the secretary
This Burlington man has put his own words to the song “Hang on Sloopy,” with a version for Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, for all her work throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“Hang on Mandy, Mandy Hang on,” the musician says, echoing the tune that topped the charts in the 1960s as a hit single covered by the McCoys.
When Fox 8 wrote a story about Scott Buffington last week, and posted it to Twitter, Cohen retweeted it, saying “Day Made. #WeAreAllInThisTogether.”
Have a listen. — Anne Blythe