May 22, 2020
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript May 22
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on May 22. His new guidance says NC breweries, taprooms, wineries, and brewpubs can reopen.
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Roy Cooper: (00:01)
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining our update on COVID-19 in North Carolina. As of today, we have 21,618 confirmed cases, 568 people in the hospital and 728 deaths. We continue to mourn for their families and their friends.
Roy Cooper: (00:25)
Well, today at 5:00 PM, North Carolina enters Safer At Home Phase 2. As laid out, this is a cautious step forward that eases certain restrictions and keeps important safety measures in place.
Roy Cooper: (00:40)
This is Memorial Day weekend, and it’s an important opportunity to honor our men and women in uniform who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, and it’s time to reflect on their contributions and show gratitude to their families. I am deeply grateful for these heroes who gave everything for our country. And I know it’s also a popular weekend for cookouts and parties, especially this year when we’ve been more socially isolated. The desire to gather with friends and family is really strong.
Roy Cooper: (01:15)
I want you to have a great time but continue using caution. I urge all North Carolinians to take the COVID-19 restrictions and safety rules seriously. Keep gatherings to under 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors. And remember the three Ws: Wear a face covering, wait six feet apart from other people and wash your hands frequently. This is how we protect ourselves, and particularly, protect our families and our neighbors.
Roy Cooper: (01:50)
Starting at 5:00 PM today, restaurants can open for in-person dining at 50% capacity and will use enhanced cleaning and health screening. Restaurants are a major part of our economy and this virus has been tough on them. As we enter Phase 2, I appreciate that restaurant owners across North Carolina are focused on how to keep their customers and their employees safe. They know that strong safety precautions will be good business.
Roy Cooper: (02:24)
To help this effort, the Department of Health and Human Services has been working closely with the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, North Carolina State University Extension, and Visit NC to develop an online curriculum for owners, managers, and employees of restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. It’s called Count On Me NC.
Roy Cooper: (02:51)
Count On Me is a free online training. It’s focused on advanced cleaning, disinfection, social distancing, and hygiene practices to better protect the public and employees from exposure to COVID-19. When completing the course, restaurants and businesses will have a sign in the window and a logo for their website to show their commitment to using new safety protocols. You may see your server if you go into a restaurant this weekend, they’ll be wearing a Count On Me pen or a name tag.
Roy Cooper: (03:28)
So far over 3,500 individuals representing over 1800 businesses have completed the training, with more signing up every day. You can learn more at countonmenc.org, and find a list of businesses in your area that have already completed the training. This innovative effort is possible because of the strong and longstanding partnerships we have with industry and our universities. As far as we know, it’s among the first of its kind in the country, and I’m proud that North Carolina is leading the way on safety and best practices.
Roy Cooper: (04:08)
Today, we have us with us Lynn Minges, the president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association to share more about this effort. Lynn, if you’d like to come over and tell us about it please. Thanks.
Lynn Minges: (04:25)
Thank you so much, Governor Cooper, for your leadership, and I appreciate very much the opportunity to share more about this important public health initiative as we prepare for reopening North Carolina restaurants today.
Lynn Minges: (04:38)
There is no question that North Carolina’s restaurants and our hospitality community have been significantly impacted by this pandemic. But during this challenging time, we’ve looked for ways to help our community to prepare for our reopening that begins as early as this afternoon. With that in mind, we’ve come together with our esteem partners and we’ve spearheaded an initiative called Count On Me NC. It’s designed to address safety concerns, but also to instill consumer confidence as we welcome visitors back into our restaurants this evening.
Lynn Minges: (05:13)
As North Carolina’s restaurants and hotels and attractions and museums work together to greet visitors back, Count On Me NC is really a mutual pledge, a public health initiative that empowers guests and businesses to work together to protect everyone’s safety. This program is an acknowledgement that we’re all in this together and Count On Me NC conveys a sense of mutual responsibility as the hospitality industry prepares to welcome guests back into our dining rooms.
Lynn Minges: (05:49)
Customers will appreciate the commitment that our businesses are making to protect their health, the health of other patrons and the health our employees. At the same time, we expect our visitors and consumers who come back into our establishments to take responsibility for their actions to protect other customers and our employees.
Lynn Minges: (06:10)
I want to tell you a little bit more about this initiative. We’ve worked collaboratively, as we do every day, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, as our restaurants are heavily regulated and inspected on a regular basis. We operate under very strict protocols every day, but particularly so during COVID-19.
Lynn Minges: (06:32)
We’re also proud to have in our partnership Visit NC, our state’s tourism marketing arm who works hard to greet visitors who choose to come into our state, to stay in hotels, to eat in our restaurants and to visit our many attractions and retail stores. They will play an important role in helping to assure consumers that our businesses are prepared and ready to welcome them back.
Lynn Minges: (06:55)
And then last, but certainly not least, we are proud to partner with North Carolina State University’s Dr. Ben Chapman and his team. They are renowned experts, national experts on food safety. They in fact have been a part of working with the CDC and the FDA on guidance at the national level as we prepare nationally for best practices in safety in food service establishments across our state. Dr. Chapman also plays a vital role here in North Carolina, as he has been a part of the farm to table movement in helping make sure that North Carolina-grown products make their way safely to the tables of families and restaurants across our state.
Lynn Minges: (07:38)
The first phase of this training is already underway. And as Governor Cooper mentioned, over 3,500 businesses have completed the program already this week. In addition, we expect that that is about 10,000 employees who have already been trained, and more will be trained as additional establishments across our state reopen. The training modules are for restaurant managers and owners. There’s a second module for back-of-the-house employees, another for front-of-the-house employees, one for cleaning staff, and one for other hospitality and retail establishments.
Lynn Minges: (08:15)
The public can look for certificates and Count On Me logos in windows and doors, on menus, on websites all over the state, and can know that these establishments have taken extra precautions to ensure guest safety during COVID-19. Participating businesses will be listed on the countonmenc.org website, and consumers who want to know about these establishments can search by keyword or by map. We also encourage North Carolinians to go on the website to read about the protocols that we’re taking and to sign their name to pledge that they’re going to participate in this campaign to ensure guest safety and the safety of others.
Lynn Minges: (09:02)
We all have a role to play-
Lynn Minges: (09:03)
… safety and the safety of others.
Lynn Minges: (09:03)
We all have a role to play in keeping our communities safe and healthy, when visiting restaurants, businesses, and other public places. We know that North Carolinians are ready to do their part, so we encourage you to take the Count On Me NC pledge. Remember the three Ws, to wear, wait and wash, to use contact-less delivery options and drive through if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19. But perhaps most importantly, we encourage you to be patient and kind and respectful of each other as you come back into dining rooms across North Carolina. We welcome you back and we welcome the partnership of local health departments across the state who we work collaboratively with every day to ensure public health safety. At the heart of it all, Count On Me NC is about working together with businesses and customers showing mutual respect for each other in this brave new era that we all find ourselves in.
Lynn Minges: (10:04)
I thank you so much.
Roy Cooper: (10:12)
Thank you, Lynn. The Count On Me campaign is really a testament to the collaboration going on all across our state right now as we fight COVID-19. I know you’ll continue to partner with all of us and continue to provide the type of helpful information and training to all of your members. Thank you for being here and for telling us about that program.
Roy Cooper: (10:38)
We have with us today our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen; our secretary of Public Safety, Eric Hooks; our Director of Emergency Management, Mike Sprayberry; and our Commissioner of Prisons, Todd Ishee. Nicole Fox and Karen Magoon are our sign language interpreters, and behind the scenes, Jackie and Jasmine [Mativier 00:11:04] are our Spanish language interpreters.
Roy Cooper: (11:08)
We’ll ask the media for their questions. If you could, identify yourself and your organization. We can take the first question.
Speaker 1: (11:19)
Our first question will be from Steven Reed, Associated Press.
Steven Reed: (11:23)
Hello, Governor. With the Coca-Cola 600 coming up this weekend, how confident are you that the four days of racing in the Charlotte Motor Speedway can be done safely? Did North Carolina health officials learn anything or see any concerns when they attended the health screen process at Darlington?
Roy Cooper: (11:49)
Well, thank you for that question. Our health officials have worked closely with NASCAR and the Charlotte Motor Speedway to ensure a safe Coca-Cola 600 this weekend. I know a lot of people are looking forward to this live sporting event on TV. I know that I am. We’re glad that since NASCAR, North Carolina is the home of NASCAR, that we’re going to be having this event here.
Roy Cooper: (12:18)
NASCAR was very thoughtful in their plan for protecting employees and drivers and pit crews and people working on the cars from COVID-19. They submitted a plan to our Department of Health and Human Services. Also, local health officials work with them. Our local health officials gave them feedback on the plan. I think that they are ready to put on a very safe race. Obviously no spectators will be there, and that is because we know that gatherings together, when people gather together, that the risk of infection is so much higher. This is why we continue to have in our executive order the mass gathering ban.
Roy Cooper: (13:10)
I don’t know about the situation regarding Darlington. Do you know anything about it, Dr. Cohen? About any feedback we got?
Roy Cooper: (13:19)
From everything I’ve heard, things went fine there, but we’ll get any reports back to see if any changes are going to be made at the Coca Cola 600 from things learned at Darlington, but I don’t have the answer to that right now.
Roy Cooper: (13:34)
Thanks. Next question.
Speaker 1: (13:38)
Kenny Beck, WXII.
Kenny Beck: (13:42)
Hi, Governor. Kenny Beck here, WXII 12 News. My question for you is about youth sports. The only part of the executive order that explicitly mentioned sports dealt with, we presume, NASCAR, because it mentioned for broadcast on television. We’ve been getting a lot of questions from little league administrators and other youth sports coordinators, swim team, travel, basketball, you name it. Is that in your opinion right now, a Phase Two thing, or is that a Phase Three thing or is it somewhere in between?
Roy Cooper: (14:15)
Sports are so important to the formation of character, for fitness. I love sports. I grew up participating on sport teams all the way through high school, and I know how important they can be for the education of children. Start out knowing that this is something that we want to have happen as much as we can as we approach the school year.
Roy Cooper: (14:43)
At the same time, we have to understand the presence of COVID-19. I don’t think that we have all of the answers to those questions yet. I know that our staff is working closely with the North Carolina High School Athletic, and I think I’ll let Dr. Cohen come up and make a few comments about that and what she has been doing on that front.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (15:09)
Thank you governor. As far as high school and other youth sports, we’ll be putting out guidance today on that. It is recommendation. The reason you didn’t see it in the executive orders is there are no requirement, but we do have public health recommendations for folks, particularly that run the leagues and the facilities that host these sporting events. Our recommendations generally fall in one big bucket here is around contact sports. We know that contact sports like basketball or football, where you’re in each other’s personal spaces and you’re breathing out respiratory droplets on other, we know that that is a higher way of spreading the virus as opposed to non-contact sports like tennis or baseball or individual sports like swimming or golf. Those non-contact sports, we said that that is fine to proceed from a recommendation perspective, but then we do have some guidance on how to do each of those activities safely. We’re not recommending contact sports go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward, but with a set of guidelines.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (16:21)
Again, all of these are recommendations and we’ve worked, as the governor mentioned, with athletic associations across North Carolina. We hope to have that guidance posted today for folks to take more of a look at.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (16:33)
Roy Cooper: (16:39)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. Next question, please.
Speaker 1: (16:44)
Joe Bruno, WSOC.
Joe Bruno: (16:49)
Hey, Governor Cooper. This is Joe Bruno from Channel Nine. Hope you’re doing well. My question for you is, are you personally comfortable with eating inside of a restaurant this weekend?
Roy Cooper: (17:00)
I’ve been two places. I’ve been the executive residence and I’ve been here at the emergency operation center. Yes, I would feel comfortable going to a restaurant, not saying that I’m necessarily going, because I hope I can spend some time with my family this weekend.
Roy Cooper: (17:17)
We’re continuing to work on issues here and we’ll be working through the weekend. But yes, I would feel comfortable. I would certainly want that restaurant to be following all of the personal safety rules and doing everything they can to prevent the transfer of COVID-19. We hope that that people will feel safe enough to go to our restaurants throughout the state. We hope that all of the restaurants continue to obey the rules. I think they’ll find that that’s good business for them to do that.
Roy Cooper: (17:56)
Thanks. Next question.
Speaker 1: (18:01)
Jonah Kaplan, ABC11.
Jonah Kaplan: (18:04)
Hi, Governor. Wanted to ask you please, what conversations are you having with large entertainment or convention venues? Should they expect to be closed for months to come? And Dr. Cohen, [inaudible 00:00:17], is the state tracking the number of positives that are from asymptomatic versus symptomatic people? Is that a metric we could have soon? Thanks very much.
Roy Cooper: (18:27)
Yes. And I’ll let Dr. Cohen address both of those, but our office is having conversations with these large event venues who obviously want to begin the process of having people back in them. These are the kinds of places that are much higher risk for COVID-19 and transferring it from one person to another. So, obviously right now where we are in phase two of the executive order, we wouldn’t have any of these large gatherings, but we’re certainly planning ahead for the potential of them being open at some capacity and are trying to figure out exactly what that would look like safety. And I’ll let Dr. Cohen answer both of those questions if she would.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (19:22)
Hi, Jonah. So, let me do that symptomatic and asymptomatic. We do not track that for all of our cases, but what I would draw your attention to on our website and on our dashboard, we post surveillance data and I would direct you to that surveillance data, which does show some information that we are starting to collect about symptomatic and asymptomatic spread. As we’ve been talking about related to COVID-19, is that we are seeing a fair amount of spread of this virus by folks who don’t have any symptoms, who are asymptomatic. That is one of the primary reasons why the three W’s is so important. So, we are not tracking that for all of our cases. When we get information back from the lab, it’s very minimal data. There are certain places where our public health team does more in depth study, particularly the surveillance work and prevalence studies. Those are the things where we’re going to be able to get more symptom-based information and link it with some of this data. So, I direct you to our surveillance data to start.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (20:28)
And I’ll just echo what the governor mentioned about large venues. We know mass gatherings are places when folks, particularly when they’re indoors, close together for longer periods of time and sitting, those are the places where they’re higher risk. We actually know that North Carolina’s first cases here in the state were seeded from a mass gathering up in new England. So, we know that those kinds of events have huge implications, not just for here in North Carolina, but can cross state. So, those are things that are concerning. We definitely want to take precautions as we go here, and I think that we’re trying to step through that. We want to look at our numbers and understand how are we doing with the easing of restrictions that we’re putting in place that only just start this evening. Let’s look at our numbers and we’ll see as we go here. But again, mass gatherings is one of the hardest because it does bring so many people together and has such a high risk of spreading the virus to so many people at the same time. Thank you.
Jonah Kaplan: (21:28)
Thank you. Next question, please.
Speaker 1: (21:28)
[inaudible 00:03: 37], News and Observer.
Jonah Kaplan: (21:40)
Governor, this is [inaudible 00:03:42]. Thank you for taking my question. What is the responsibility of restaurants, businesses, churches, anything not open from the public to report to the public and state about new cases or outbreaks tied to their establishments? This [inaudible 00:22:07] staffers and diners.
Jonah Kaplan: (22:10)
I’ll let you handle that, dr. Cohen.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (22:13)
Sure. Thank you. There are certain industries that are regulated in terms of required to report to us. As was mentioned, the restaurant industry is highly regulated and we continue to do inspections, but in terms of reporting outbreaks, that would be two or more cases or reporting clusters, that would be five or more cases. Restaurants are not one of the industries that are required to report back to us. Now, we often do want those restaurants to get in touch with our public health departments if there is an issue, because we want to work in close collaboration with them to make sure that they’re doing all of the right things to prevent further spread of the infection. But there are just a few industries that are required by law to report to us. Those are settings like nursing homes and again, that’s why you see those reported on our website. Thank you.
Jonah Kaplan: (23:08)
Thank you. Next question, please.
Speaker 1: (23:12)
Matt Debnam, Washington Daily News.
Matt Debnam: (23:16)
Hi there, governor. Matt Debnam here with the Washington Daily News. I wanted to ask you about lawsuits. First, there was the suit on behalf of churches and then one that was going to be filed on behalf of salon owners. Now, our state representative for Beaufort County is organizing a suit that, if successful, would allow all businesses to reopen in phase two. What’s your reaction to these legal challenges and they’re affecting how your team’s making policy?
Jonah Kaplan: (23:39)
It would be irresponsible to remove restrictions all at once. Clearly, that’s a situation that could result in a massive spike in COVID-19. And our entire effort here has been to slow the spread and to keep our hospital system and medical providers from being overwhelmed, and we’ve been successful with that. We are beginning to turn the dimmer light up to move into phase… We moved into phase one first. Now, we’re moving into phase two and we are slowly easing restrictions here while remembering that the vast majority of businesses in North Carolina can be open. Some of them are not because of the consequences of this pandemic, whether it be supply chain, whether it be employees that have to stay home. There are businesses that are not operating at full capacity for a lot of reasons. We hope that we have made these orders constitutional. We did have the one lawsuit regarding houses of worship, where we’ve made accommodations for that in this order.
Jonah Kaplan: (24:55)
And we believe that this is a smart way to move forward, to protect the health of North Carolinians while also trying to boost our economy. And that goes hand in hand, and we’ve got to make sure that people have confidence to be able to go out into the economy. And we’re doing that and giving them that confidence by talking about things like Count On Me today, but also using the data to make decisions about when it’s safe to do more easing of the restrictions. And when people know that that’s what we’re using to make decisions, not emotions, not politics, but science and data, people will have more confidence and not only will people be healthier but our economy will improve faster. Thank you, next question.
Speaker 1: (25:54)
Tyler Duke, WRAL.
Tyler Dukes: (26:00)
Governor. This is Tyler Dukes from WRAL. Today, Senator Berger sent DPS a letter demanding answers to questions and documents that reporters have been asking for for weeks. Do you intend to ensure DPS will provide those answers and documents, both to Senator Berger and the media?
Jonah Kaplan: (26:17)
Well, first we want to make sure that all our employees at prisons and inmates are safe and we want to make sure that we abide with all of the public records laws. I’ve not seen this letter you’re talking about, but I do have Todd Ishee here, our director of prisons, who can provide a response. So, Todd, I’ll let you come forward.
Todd Ishee: (26:43)
Thank you, governor. This morning, I did receive a communication from Senator Berger’s office and we’ll be sending a response back very timely. We look forward to the opportunity to answer all of the senator’s questions. And quite frankly, we look forward to the opportunity to set the record straight. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (27:03)
We look forward to the opportunity to set the record straight. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (27:08)
Thank you. Next question please.
Speaker 4: (27:11)
Ashley, [inaudible 00:27:13] Charlotte Business Journal.
Thanks Governor, can you provide more clarity on how craft breweries in the state are classified under the Phase 2 guidelines? The NC Craft Brewers Guild and others have said they don’t believe brewery [inaudible 00:27:27] or brew pubs meet the order’s definition of a bar, but there seems to be a lot of confusion around this as far as reopening,
Roy Cooper: (27:36)
Right. Our legal team and our departments will be issuing guidance on that this afternoon, regarding what establishments fall under what category, there will be a legal distinction there. It’s important to know that we have worked very closely with the Restaurant Association, making sure that we put in place protections with this count on, on [inaudible 00:28:03] program that is going on right now. And we feel really good about where we are with our restaurants, but that clarification will be coming this afternoon. Thanks. Next question.
Speaker 4: (28:20)
Elizabeth Anne Brown, Asheville Citizen-Times.
Elizabeth Anne Brown: (28:26)
Hello, Governor Cooper. This is Elizabeth Anne from the Asheville Citizen-Times Newspaper. Since about April 10th, I’ve been reaching out consistently to Department of Employment Services, or security rather, asking them for this one metric, number of individual applications they either accept or reject every day. Through several exchanges of emails they have promised to give me these numbers, and then either those have never materialized, or they’ve cited vague concerns with timing that it wasn’t right time to answer this. [inaudible 00:29:03] has tried to help me get those numbers, and we have not been successful so far. Is there a reason that you know that [inaudible 00:29:11] wouldn’t provide those numbers to the public? It’s an important metric to show how quickly they’ll be able to dig themselves out of the backlog and one that they should have readily assessable if they’re monitoring their progress.
Roy Cooper: (29:22)
Thanks for that question, and I’m not familiar with that number that you are talking about. They do post numbers of claims that were rejected and claims that have been paid. And right now about 585,000 people are receiving benefits of almost $2.4 billion. But this division knows, and I know that there are thousands of people who have yet to be paid. And every single family that has applied for unemployment benefits deserves a fair adjudication, and deserves to get paid if they qualify. I know that additional federal money has been activated today, so there will be more opportunities for people to provide unemployment insurance. But I’ll take those concerns that you have today and make sure that our communications people get up with you to provide that information to you, if that’s something that can be provided under the Public Records Law, and it’s supposed to be given out. But thank you for that question, and we’ll try to get that information to you. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (30:35)
Our final question today will be from Derek [inaudible 00:30:38], Fox 46.
Thank you for taking my question, this is Derek with Fox 46. We’ve heard from gyms who have said that they have spent literally thousands of dollars to be ready on everything from air purifiers, hand sanitizers, body wipes, different protocols. We’ve also heard from bars saying that the restaurants literally right next door to them, can open that how bars in them, but they can’t, and they say they’re willing to do whatever they can to open. And the big question here is, do you have anything to say to those businesses that have invested the time to get ready only these told no, even though they were expecting to open? And do you expect the bar and gym restrictions to continue for the next five weeks?
Roy Cooper: (31:19)
We appreciate all the businesses in North Carolina, and certainly are concerned about those that can’t open right now, but we have to keep the public health and safety of North Carolinians as the number one priority here. Our Department of Health and Human Services, we’re going to continue to work with those businesses, but many of them are high risk for transfer of COVID. For example, the state of Georgia, which has moved a lot faster than North Carolina and easing restrictions still has not opened bars in Georgia, as of right now. And I think we all would know the reason why that would be the case. So what we’re doing is moving cautiously, trying not to move with haste, making sure that in this phase, we can watch our numbers to see how North Carolina is doing. And then hopefully we can include those businesses as we move on through the phases in North Carolina, but we’ve got to keep the safety of North Carolinians as the number one priority. Thanks very much for being with us today. And I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Thank you so much.