By Julie Havlak
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper is walking back reopening with a new stay-at-home order, starting Friday, Dec. 11, when North Carolina effectively shuts down from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Cooper’s order will require nonessential businesses to close by 10 p.m., as well as banning private gatherings and nonessential travel. The order won’t affect construction, manufacturing, or grocery stores.
The governor also tightened his statewide curfew on alcohol sales, pushing it up to 9 p.m. from 11 p.m. for drinking in breweries, bars, or other businesses.
Some bar owners pushed back, blasting Cooper for cracking down on already struggling businesses rather than targeting private gatherings. They argued that his latest orders will destroy their businesses and accomplish little to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is Governor Cooper and his team picking winners and losers and grinding down small business owners once again,” said Zach Medford, founder and president of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association.
Cooper says North Carolina is flunking its metrics. He cited a prediction the state will run out of hospital capacity within six weeks if the current rate of infections continues, according to a study by The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.
North Carolina has 20,784 acute hospital beds, and COVID-19 patients filled 2,198 of those beds as of Thursday, Dec. 5. The other 14,089 beds were occupied by non-COVID patients, leaving 4,497 beds available for new patients, according to the study.
“The later in the evening you go, the larger these gatherings can be at some of these businesses,” Cooper said. “This tells people what they really need to go home. They don’t need to be gathering. … They’re safer at home.”
Cooper will shut down bars less than three months after he allowed them to operate at 30% capacity outside. Indoor bars were never able to reopen.
Medford says Cooper’s latest order will strip away his most lucrative hours. He says he makes up to 80% of his income 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“All it does is take those of us who’re barely surviving, we’re on life support, and he just pulled the plug on us,” Medford said. “It’s going to bankrupt small business owners and send droves of people who would otherwise have gone to a controlled environment into free-for-all house parties.”
North Carolina could have a vaccine as early as next week, but don’t expect that to factor into the state’s timeline soon, says state Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Cooper said he wasn’t expecting a vaccine to have a “major effect in the near future,” saying doses will be limited at first. The health department previously said it expects vaccines to remain in short supply for months.
“When this pandemic came to North Carolina in March, many of us did not expect to be living this way in December,” Cooper said. “Things are dire. This is truly a matter of life and death.”
Cooper had already asked 36 counties to slow viral spread with more lockdowns. In October, he pushed them to restrict restaurants, to close bars, and to fine businesses that didn’t enforce mask mandates and other lockdown rules.
But many refused. Local leaders worried about economic suffering, and they rejected further shutdowns.
Since then, the state has flagged 48 counties as red areas with critical levels of viral spread. More than 80% of North Carolina’s counties are coded with red or orange under the metrics of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Cooper asked residents to cancel in-person holiday gatherings, recommending moving celebrations online or outside.