Sen. Jim Burgin feels it’s time to open churches back up.
Burgin earlier this week sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper requesting churches be allowed to reopen this Sunday under certain safety guidelines. Burgin suggested churches operate at 50% capacity and continue practicing social distancing measures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no reason we can’t do some of the things we’ve talked about,” Burgin said. “Churches and everybody else are doing the right thing. People are smart and social distancing works. A group of churches in Harnett County are talking about a plan to reopen and I support them.”
Cooper extended his stay-at-home executive order to May 8 and outlined a phased plan to reopen the state. Churches fell into the second phase of Cooper’s plan, which takes effect a couple of weeks after the state meets certain initial benchmarks related to COVID-19 cases.
Burgin said the current format for determining what should and should not be open lacks consistency and facts.
“Why can you go to a liquor store and stand in line to buy liquor, but you can’t go to church?” asked Burgin. “Why can we go to the ABC store and we can’t go to church? I’m having trouble with that. If they’ve got the data to support it, show me the data. I can’t get the data.”
Rising state unemployment numbers continued a historic month, as the number of COVID-19 related claims inched closer to one million people this week. As the statewide lockdown continues, the number of societal issues contributed to mass unemployment caused by the coronavirus is starting to bubble closer to the surface.
“People are being careful, but we’re damaging people’s mental health right now,” Burgin said. “Isolation is a problem. Liquor stores are selling a lot more alcohol now. Alcohol sales are through the roof at local liquor stores. One of them was quoted as saying they had never sold so much alcohol as they had in the last 30 days. COVID-19 fatigue is setting in. People call me saying they’re not sleeping at night, they’re frustrated and worried.”
Whether or not Cooper even has the authority to shutter churches, Burgin said, is debatable at the least.
“I still think churches are a completely different situation because of the separation between church and state,” said Burgin. “Statewide, churches are having these conversations about do they have the right constitutionally to go ahead and start meeting, regardless of what Cooper says. I’m not going to tell you to do something that will break a local law, but the church is a unique thing and we need to protect it.”
Burgin requested specific statistical data on the number of COVID-19 related deaths of people without underlying health conditions weeks ago and said he has yet to see it. The number of people infected or previously exposed remains a mystery and the number of deaths is questionable, as anyone who died in the hospital is being listed as COVID-19 related, Burgin said.
“Only now we’re coding everything COVID-19,” said Burgin. “If you go to the hospital and die, they’re probably going to put COVID related. We’ve sent letters saying we need to know this information. We can’t get it. We are smart people, but apparently, a lot of us aren’t as smart as the people telling us what to do. I don’t mind them telling, just give me the information to prove what you’re saying is true. Show me the data.”
Burgin also expressed concerns for shuttered restaurants, which aren’t scheduled to reopen at limited capacity under Cooper’s plan until Phase Two or sometime in early June.
“My biggest worry is restaurants,” Burgin said. “A lot of them will never come back.”
State senators this week passed a $1.3 billion COVID relief bill and the House of Representatives approved a $1.7 billion plan on Thursday. Burgin said state senators and Cooper appear to be on the same page, but the House is inflating the bill.
-Dunn Daily Record