May 26, 2020
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript May 26
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on May 26. Cooper addressed Donald Trump’s tweets about pulling the RNC from North Carolina unless the state allows full attendance.
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Roy Cooper: (00:09)
Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining today’s update on COVID-19 in North Carolina. As of today, we have 24,140 confirmed cases, 621 people in the hospital, and sadly 766 deaths. As we ease restrictions in safer at home phase two and people are out and traveling more, I would ask that you think about families in mourning and those who are sick. Your actions to wear a face covering, wait six feet from others, and wash your hands can prevent more sickness and death.
Roy Cooper: (00:50)
Since this pandemic emerged, Congress passed legislation setting up the coronavirus relief fund for state governments. North Carolina’s slated to receive $ 3.56 billion from that fund. And although the state was not required to, my COVID-19 budget proposal recommended $300 million go directly to local governments, including both counties and municipalities. In this special legislative session we had, ultimately the unanimous bipartisan budget I signed included $150 million for counties, which had the flexibility to share with towns and cities if they want to. Today, we’re pleased to announce that by the end of this week, we’ll have processed payments for 59 counties for a total of $85 million, and we expect more counties to submit requests soon. This money is crucial for local governments to help pay for health and public safety officials, telemedicine, personal protective equipment, and more.
Roy Cooper: (01:59)
The quick distribution of this money is thanks to our Office of State Budget and Management and our new North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office. This new office was created to oversee the distribution of state and federal money in response to COVID-19. This team will offer technical assistance for governments and groups which receive relief funds and oversight for how that money is allocated. And this office will also assist with boosting our state’s strategic economic recovery as we rebuild from this pandemic.
Roy Cooper: (02:37)
In conversations with our congressional delegation, 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. Because of the economic effects of this pandemic, state and local governments are losing revenue that support our schools, our law enforcement, EMS, and other critical services. Governors from across the country, from both political parties, are clear that Congress needs to do more to help stabilize state and local government. And I’ll keep working with our congressional delegation from here in North Carolina to help make that happen.
Roy Cooper: (03:24)
As we continue safer at home phase two, we need to stay alert. Over the weekend, we saw our highest one day increase in positive cases and our highest day of hospitalizations yet. This virus remains a serious threat, and we cannot let our guard down. I want to thank everyone who made safe decisions this past holiday weekend. I know it’s hard when annual traditions have to be changed or made virtual, but I encourage everyone to continue to take this virus seriously and follow the three W’s. I know you get tired of us saying it, but it is so important to have in your mind and to actually do. Wear a face covering, wash your hands, wait six feet apart, and the other safety rules out there. They are saving lives and they’re protecting everybody. Let’s keep at it.
Roy Cooper: (04:27)
With me today is our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of Public Safety, Eric Hooks, our Emergency Management Director, Mike Sprayberry. Nicole Fox and Brian Tipton are our sign language interpreters, and behind the scenes, Jackie and Jasmine Metivier are our Spanish language interpreters. I’m first going to recognize Dr. Cohen for a few remarks.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (05:00)
Thank you, Governor. To build on your remarks, it was a beautiful weekend to head into phase two. I know many of us spent more time outside of our homes over the long weekend. I know my family enjoyed doing some hiking at Eno River State Park. But what got us here, what got us to safer at home phase two, was North Carolinians taking individual actions to stay home. When we all did this together, it worked. We slowed the spread of the virus and put ourselves in a good position to begin easing restrictions. Our individual actions will continue to determine our path forward, and we all have an important role to play. When you go out to eat, bring your face covering with you. When you go shopping, make sure to stay six feet apart when you’re in line. Collectively, these actions can both energize our economy and protect public health.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (05:56)
Since we don’t have a cure and we don’t have a vaccine, we have to learn to live as safely as possible with this virus. We know from decades of public health research that there are three simple things that each of us can do to protect all of us. Again, as the governor said, those three W’s, so critical, wearing a cloth face covering, waiting six feet apart, washing your hands frequently. Our health and our economy depend on it. And it’s possible to do this well. NASCAR ran the Coca-Cola 600 without spectators and used appropriate social distancing, face covering, hand hygiene, and signage. They took precautions seriously and had a great event that was enjoyed by millions.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (06:45)
Let’s all take the precautions that NASCAR did. Remember, you could have COVID-19 and not have any symptoms. By wearing a face covering, you can protect those around you from getting sick, and with more than half of North Carolinians at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19, you may be saving a life. Our state has done so well in containing this virus because we stayed together. We need to keep this up. Our ability to continue to ease restrictions and get back to work as safely as possible hinges on all of us working together to protect each other. Please take care of yourself, and be kind to those around you. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (07:34)
We’ll now hear from Mike Sprayberry. Mike.
Mike Sprayberry: (07:39)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your leadership. Today is day 78 of the State Emergency Operation Center’s COVID-19 response. Today, we begin our second full week of distributing personal protective equipment to longterm care facilities across the state. We will have five regional drive-thru distribution centers this week, in Cullowhee in the far West, Buncombe County, near Asheville, two days in Raleigh, and Edenton in the East. At these events, facilities from approximately 24 counties will be picking up supplies. Longterm care homes are receiving a two week supply of protective equipment.
Mike Sprayberry: (08:21)
For some of these facilities, this is their only reliable source for the PPE they need to protect their patients and staff. We thank our partners with the office of EMS and other DHS agencies, and the National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, and state and local emergency managers who are working hard to prepare for and operate these distribution events.
Mike Sprayberry: (08:45)
As we continue to obtain and distribute personal protective equipment from our warehouses, our supply of isolation gowns is improving. That item of PPE has been very hard to get, but some shipments have been coming in over the past two weeks. We now have a little over 200,000 ISO gowns in our warehouses. That’s a little less than a 30 day supply. We’ll continue to aggressively source and purchase PPE items, particularly gowns and N-95 masks, which remain our most needed items.
Mike Sprayberry: (09:18)
The North Carolina National Guard continues to support our state COVID-19 response, with 529 guardsmen and women on duty, as we right size the National Guard force needed for the response. Their primary missions remain warehouse operations, food support and distribution, cyber security, and PPE distribution. This week a National Guard team will be supporting a two day community testing event in Lee County, and liaison officers continue to support emergency operation centers in seven counties. I join Secretary Cohen in thanking our outstanding team of American sign language interpreters during Hearing Loss Awareness Month, you’ll remember she thanked them last week.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:03)
They are here early each day to prepare for daily news conferences, working with our communications team to make sure they know how to best convey each day’s message to the deaf community. And they are often here after the press conference is over practicing and training. We thank them for their service and making sure that important information about public health and safety gets out to the deaf community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:32)
I also want to take this opportunity to thank our local health directors and emergency management directors for their strong partnership and hard work. Their unified and proactive approach to the COVID-19 pandemic response is proving more effective than ever, especially as we work to expand testing and contact tracing. You are making a difference. Remember to observe the three W’s. You’ve heard it from the governor and secretary. Wear a cloth face covering, wait at least six feet apart, and wash your hands often. That’s wear, wait and wash. And as always, don’t forget to look out for your family, friends, and neighbors, and to call your loved ones daily, guaranteed they’ll appreciate it. With kindness and cooperation, we’ll all get through this together as one team, one mission and one family. Thank you very much and thank you governor.
Roy Cooper: (11:29)
Thank you, Mike. We’ll now take questions from the media. If you can identify yourself and your organization and we’ll take the first one.
Speaker 1: (11:39)
Our first question will be from Jim Morrill, Charlotte Observer.
Jim Morrill: (11:44)
Hey, thank you, and thank you governor. First, I want to ask you what your reaction was to the president’s tweets about the convention yesterday. And secondly, when do you think you might be able to give him the assurance that he asked for and what would you need to know to make that decision?
Roy Cooper: (12:01)
I’m not surprised by anything that I see on Twitter. I will say that it’s okay for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be. Already, we’ve been in talks with the RNC about the kind of convention that they would need to run and the kind of options that we need on the table. We’re talking about something that’s going to happen three months from now, and we don’t know what our situation is going to be regarding COVID-19 in North Carolina. These are the same kind of conversations that we’re having with the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets, other large arena owners. Everybody wants to get back into action soon, but I think everybody knows that we have to take some steps to make sure that people are protected because this virus is still going to be with us in August and we’re going to have to take steps to protect people.
Roy Cooper: (13:09)
We have asked the RNC to present to us in writing their proposals. We’ve had discussions with them about a very limited convention all the way up, and we want to see in writing what their plans are. We asked NASCAR to do the very same thing and NASCAR did a good job this weekend of executing their plan of face coverings, of social distancing, signage, cleaning. We want to see from the RNC what their plans are, and we have asked them to submit those plans to our public health officials. They have someone hired to advise them as well. And we look forward to the back and forth on that. We’d like to reach a resolution that everybody can be reasonable about, that puts public health safety, the science and the facts as the number one thing we’re trying to do here. So we look forward to those continued conversations. Next question.
Speaker 1: (14:19)
Michael Hyland, CBS 17.
Michael Hyland: (14:24)
Hi governor, I wanted to ask more about the spike in cases that was reported over the weekend. At this point, what do you all attribute that to? And do you believe that is in any way directly related to having moved into phase one a couple of weeks earlier? Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (14:37)
Thank you, Michael. We like to look at these statistics over a 14 day period, but when you see a couple of days of increased numbers, you have to be concerned about it. And it’s one of the reasons why we are continuing to emphasize to people that we are far from being out of the woods yet with this virus, that people need to continue to take safety precautions to protect themselves, their families and other people that they may come in contact with. I’ll let Dr. Cohen give her perspective on these numbers as well.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (15:15)
Thank you, Michael, for the question. Yes, concerning to have our largest one day increase in cases as the governor mentioned, and that’s why we need to look at all of our trends and how do we think that we are doing overall? I think there’s no one thing that we can attribute it to. We know that our case count will go up because we are doing a lot more testing, but again, I think we need to understand all of the factors going into this. We’re seeing that while we are doing more testing, we’re seeing outbreaks in lots of different parts of our state. We certainly see the number of cases increasing at some of our urban centers around the state, but in some of our rural areas where we have some of our critical infrastructure facilities that require them to continue to operate, we have seen folks that have contracted the virus and are spreading the virus.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (16:04)
We’re working closely with them obviously, to do the tracing and additional testing to try to make sure that we don’t spread the virus further. We obviously can continue to do the work in our congregate settings to make sure that we aren’t seeing further spread there, but it goes back to what we said in our opening remarks is that we have to learn to live with this virus and not have it overwhelm our healthcare system. We want to save lives. And we can do that with simple individual actions. And so if we take those actions together, that’s what’s going to help us be able to keep our metrics stable. It’s going to allow us to both ignite the economy and protect public health. So that’s what we’re really focused on. I don’t want to take any one day to make decisions about why we look at trends, but I think that sends a signal to all of us that we really, really need to be vigilant about all of the actions that we’re taking and to take these public health safety precautions very seriously. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (17:04)
Thank you. Next question please.
Speaker 1: (17:10)
Jason deBruyn, North Carolina Public Radio.
Jason deBruyn: (17:13)
Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for the question. This is Jason deBruyn with North Carolina Public Radio. As it relates to meat processing facilities, I wonder if you could give a little bit more information about how you come to count individuals who have been infected at meat processing facilities. And the follow up question there would be why you don’t report infections by facility name. I know you do report them by county, but why don’t you report them by facility name? Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (17:48)
Thanks. We know that meat packing plants have become a particular problem for employees being infected, and it’s one of the reasons why our public health officials have gotten so involved in this process and advising employers about trying to provide sick pay for their employees so that they won’t be forced to come to work if they’re sick to make sure that there is proper protection for employees in the plant. We know this is also important for our food supply chain and that their operation is critical to that, but it’s got to be done in a safe environment. And I’m going to let Dr. Cohen talk about specifically what the department is doing and what decisions they’re making regarding that.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (18:39)
Thank you, governor. Yes, as we talk about a critical infrastructure like our meat processing plants, yes, they need to stay open, but are also places where the virus does transmit easily because folks need to work closer together, they’re in a cold environment and it’s loud and so they’re often shouting. So we have worked closely with them to do things like put up barriers, make sure folks have coverings on their face to make sure if we have to slow down a production line in order to social distance, that’s what they do as the governor mentioned. We’ve brought testing as well, either onsite or close by so that folks can know whether or not they have COVID-19 and can stay home if they do. So those are the kinds of things that we do on the public health side. And I will say it is really our local health departments that really have been on the ground folks working hard on this. So I want to thank them for their efforts.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (19:33)
As we’ve said many times before, these industries are not ones that are required to report to our local health departments or the state. We find out about these largely because they come to the attention of the local health departments because we want them to. We want to offer our help and assistance and making sure we slow the spread of the virus. So we very much want them to get in contact with us. However, it is not a required reporting. So we do not have a systematic way of knowing about all of the pieces of this pie here, but we know-
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (20:03)
… about a lot of them, we want to assist, and we do assist. When it is an industry that we do regulate like a congregate living setting, like a nursing home, those are required by law to report to us those outbreaks. So it’s a different situation in terms of how we come to know about some of these things. But again, in all of these situations, we want folks to pick up the phone to our local public health department, to the state, so that we can work together on this. This is a hard thing that everyone is having to deal with. And so it does take a lot of work to make sure that we are stopping the spread of the virus. And we do want folks to be identifying when they do have an issue so we can work in partnership together. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (20:49)
Thanks. Next question please.
Speaker 2: (20:54)
Katie Peralta, Charlotte Agenda.
Katie Peralta: (20:55)
Hi, Governor Cooper. Thank you for taking my question. This is Katie Peralta with the Charlotte Agenda. Just had a quick question about gyms and other fitness studios that we have seen several videos and heard reports of continuing to operate over the weekend, despite the executive order. What is your response to gyms and other fitness studios around the state that continue to defy the executive order?
Roy Cooper: (21:20)
I’m deeply concerned because it can be dangerous. One of the reasons that we are moving cautiously into phase two is that there are a lot of businesses that can easily, just by their very nature, easily cause transfer of COVID-19 from one person to the next. So the health officials in North Carolina believe that we have gone as far as we can go at the moment. We would ask everyone to abide by the rules that have been set by people who understand the health arena and what COVID-19 is doing across the state.
Roy Cooper: (22:03)
It’s deeply concerning when people ignore the order. I’m pleased that most people and most businesses in North Carolina are acting responsibly and are doing the things that they are supposed to do. They may not like everything, but they know that it is in the best interest of the health and safety of the people of North Carolina. And I think it’s important to continue to encourage that and discourage that kind of dangerous and reckless activity. Thank you. Next question.
Speaker 2: (22:40)
Richard Craver, Winston Salem Journal.
Richard Craver: (22:44)
Hello, this is Richard Craver with the Winston Salem Journal. I have a couple of questions for you. One, just anecdotally, what have y’all seen in terms of how the response was with churches in terms of attendance, in terms of people complying with social distancing and mask? And the other question is, I’m sure y’all are aware of the situation at Ace Speedway and Alamance County and the number of people who came to that race. And it looks like in most instances, most people did not wear a mask and did not adhere to social distancing. So I was wanting to see how much concern there was and how much concern there might be that that might be setting a precedent for other groups to gather that way?
Roy Cooper: (23:25)
Richard, I heard the first, the second part of your question. Repeat the first part of the question, please. If you would.
Richard Craver: (23:33)
Sorry. Yeah, the first question is basically how did [inaudible 00:23:36] churches performed that did open up for the sanctuaries this weekend?
Speaker 2: (23:39)
How did the churches perform this weekend when they opened?
Roy Cooper: (23:40)
How did the what?
Speaker 2: (23:40)
How did the churches-
Roy Cooper: (23:49)
Oh, okay. Well, in answer to the second question regarding the Speedway, even NASCAR put forth a race where they provided for social distancing and took safety precautions to protect the people who were racing and the people who were there. It is dangerous and reckless to try and draw a crowd. 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. And 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, it ought to be very concerning to them that this occurred.
Roy Cooper: (24:51)
Most of the churches that I have talked to this week or the pastors that I’ve talked to have continued to do virtual services because they are not quite ready to go back into in-person services. Some have continued to do them outside and some have done them inside. The ones that I am aware of, there was some proper social distancing going on. We’re still very concerned about any kind of crowd inside a room with more than 10 people because of the potential for the transfer of COVID-19 from one person to the next and would continue to discourage that. And I think most of the churches still are doing virtual services.
Roy Cooper: (25:41)
Do you have anything you wanted to… Okay. Thanks. I’m sorry about that. You were a little muffled and I couldn’t quite hear you, but thank you for the question Richard. Next question.
Speaker 2: (25:52)
Michael Hennessey, Fox 8.
Michael Hennessey: (25:56)
Hey Governor, Michael Hennessy from Fox 9. Thanks for taking my question. Yeah. I have another question about the Ace Speedway, just because the owner out there is saying that he’s going to have races again this weekend. The Alamance County officials aren’t enforcing phase two restrictions. So is there anything that you in particular can do, would do, to try to get them to abide by those? Especially considering the level of concern that you’re expressing right now. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (26:26)
That is a dangerous situation that ought to concern all the local officials and all the citizens surrounding that venue. All of the options are on the table for us and we are examining those options now. We would just encourage people not to participate in that kind of activity because it can be dangerous to you, your family, and anybody else that you would come in contact with. And it is a completely reckless way to operate. Next question please.
Speaker 2: (27:06)
Chandler Morgan WBTV.
Chandler Morgan: (27:10)
Hi Governor Cooper, two questions for you. One relating back to the comments on the RNC. States like Georgia who reopened much quicker than North Carolina, they’ve shown interest in hosting the RNC after the President’s comments. Are you worried that it could fall through the cracks and alternatively be hosted in another state if you don’t get these plans in action soon enough? And then another question for you relating back to a town we have here. The town of Faith has decided to cancel their celebrations for Independence Day, and they say that they’ve been emailing and contacting your office to get answers on if they should or should not cancel their celebration. My question is, are you aware of any efforts from this town to contact you about this?
Roy Cooper: (27:53)
Well, let’s do the first question. We want to continue to receive the plans from the RNC and have our health officials discuss these issues with the RNC. I supported having the convention in North Carolina, but we have to put the health and safety of North Carolinians as the guiding star in this process. And we hope to continue the discussions and look forward to those discussions with the RNC later on this weekend and into next week. As to, I don’t know about this other parade that you were talking about. I do know that we put a mass gathering ban of 10 people inside and 25 people outside, and such an event probably would be a violation of the mass gathering ban. I’m not aware of any other discussions that have occurred. And I don’t know if any of you all are, we’re not aware of that. But we’ll try to find out and get it back with you. Thanks. Next question please.
Speaker 2: (29:02)
Andrea Blanford, ABC 11.
Andrea Blanford: (29:06)
Hi Governor. It’s Andrea Blanford with ABC 11. Our newsroom has been hearing from many business owners lately about the gray areas in your executive order on phase two, as far as distinctions between requirements, recommendations, and what is simply guidance. Can you share some insight as to why there is variance between what’s mandated and required and just suggested rather? And who exactly should businesses be contacting to get clarification on what protocols they need to have in place as they’re deciding to reopen? Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (29:42)
Dr. Cohen, address that.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (29:46)
Hi there. Yes. So we wanted with the executive order and the requirements to set a floor, a minimum, to say, “At least, in order for you to operate, these are the standards you need to meet.” That’s why we codified them in the executive order. However, there were many more things that are very nuanced to various businesses that…
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (30:03)
…we worked very closely with different business associations and individual business owners on to make sure we tailored those, then, guidance to go over and beyond the minimum. We know many folks want to go beyond just the minimum and say, “What do we need to do to make sure our employees are safe? We want our customers to know that we’re doing everything possible.” So, we delineated that in a full list of recommendations that we call guidance. Again, the requirements are in the executive order, the full guidance has some things that are required setting a minimum, but there are additional recommendations for folks who I know we worked very closely with to try to make sure that they could go as far as they can to protect both their employees and their customers.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (30:50)
So, they’re very nuanced distinctions between them, whether it was operating a pool, operating a restaurant, a salon, a place of worship for example. So, we tried to go through that with every one of these different distinctions. Again, the executive order sets the minimum requirements that are required in order to open and operate. Then we have additional recommendations that go further, that we hope everyone will follow all of those. And we hope that that is a good guide to help folks know what are all the things they could be doing to keep folks as safe as possible. Thanks.
Gary Robertson: (31:31)
Thank you, next question please.
Speaker 4: (31:34)
Gary Robertson, Associated Press.
Gary Robertson: (31:38)
Hi, governor, it’s Gary Robertson with AP. So, on Friday we had this letter saying that you and secretary Cohen and one of your aides met with the Republican National Convention CEO. And it sounds like it was a relatively routine discussion or at least there was some constructive discussions there. Did you have any idea that three days later the president would basically throw down an ultimatum? Was there any indication to you that he was getting impatient based on your discussions?
Roy Cooper: (32:14)
We’re continuing our discussions with the RNC. I’m really not surprised that anything that happens on Twitter during this COVID-19 pandemic. We’re continuing our discussions with the RNC and going to continue to put health and safety at the forefront. 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. I think the RNC understands that, and just as we did with NASCAR and just as we’ll do with some of these other larger organizations, we want to see their plans, what their options are. We will review those, our health officials will give feedback on them, and 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 and that’s that’s the bottom line. Thanks, next question.
Speaker 4: (33:44)
Our final question today will be from Dawn Vaughan with the News and Observer.
Dawn Vaughan: (33:51)
Hi, it’s Dawn Vaughan with the N&O, thanks for taking my question. You mentioned with the [inaudible 00:33:56] County rates, that options are on the table. What exact options and what kind of penalties are you looking at and how is that going to work for systems up in other parts of the state if it’s only going to be at the local level with penalties and enforcement or if there’ll be anything at the state level?
Roy Cooper: (34:14)
We’ve been very pleased across North Carolina the way people have been complying. 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 and I think it’s continues to be important that that occur. If you have local law enforcement officials who won’t enforce the order, then I think the state has to look at other options. And that is what we’ll do, and if decisions are made on that particular thing, then we’ll get back to you on that. Thank you all for being with us today and we look forward to being with you further on later in the week. Stay safe, everybody. Thank you.