Nov 23, 2020

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript November 23: Mask Mandate Update

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript November 23
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsNorth Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript November 23: Mask Mandate Update

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on November 23. He discussed a spike in COVID-19 infections and tightened the statewide mask mandate. Read the full transcript here.

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Gov. Cooper: (04:41)
Good afternoon, everybody. And thank you for joining today’s update on COVID-19 in North Carolina. As of today, we have 339,194 cases, 2,419 new cases reported since yesterday, 1,601 people in the hospital, and sadly, 5,039 people who’ve died. We’ve passed the grim benchmark of losing more than 5,000 North Carolinians to COVID-19. We hold each of them in our memories. They will not be forgotten. This Thanksgiving week, our state and the country are reporting record high case numbers in hospitalizations. I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today, we are in danger. This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many. Today, Dr. Mandy Cohen, our secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will give an update on our key trends and metrics. She’ll also share an update on our County Alert map.

Gov. Cooper: (05:55)
Unfortunately, the updates are dire. With our metrics worsening and the case counts at record levels, we updated the map earlier than we had planned so North Carolinians can see right now where things stand. This week, you’ll see that 10 more counties have been designated as red indicating critically high levels of community spread. We now have 20 red counties and 42 orange counties. This is deadly serious. We need communities and local governments all over the state, but especially in those red and orange hotspots to work with us to enforce the strong safety rules we already have in place. With us today is Greensboro mayor, Nancy Vaughan, who’ll speak about what the city is doing to enforce our statewide executive order with civil penalties when businesses risk public help. But right now I’d like to ask Dr. Mandy Cohen to present today’s data and the updated county map. Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (07:08)
Thank you, governor. And thank you, Mayor Vaughan for your leadership. Let’s get right down to the data. As a reminder, every week, we look at a combination of trend metrics. COVID-like syndromic cases, new cases, positive tests as a percentage of total test and hospitalizations. In our first graph, we look at people who come to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms. This is our earliest detection mechanism. And you can see when looking at the yellow line that this trend continues to go up and is significantly above baseline. Next, we look at new cases. This first graph shows you the trajectory of new cases each day since we had our first case back in March. You can see the yellow line continues to increase steeply. If we narrow in on the trajectory of cases from early September through today, you can see a clear picture that our cases are trending up significantly.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (08:05)
Next, we look at the percent of tests that are positive. This graph also goes back to the beginning of September. And looking at the yellow line, our percent of positive tests has increased slightly and is now at 7%. Our extensive testing efforts have kept this metric in the single digits as we watch it soar in other states. However, we still want to see this metric at 5% or below. On our next graph, we look at day over day, hospitalizations. This graph also starts in early September. Remember, that on November 13th we changed how these numbers were reported to meet new federal requirements which caused an abrupt increase in our numbers that you can see. However, even when we account for that change, we’ve seen the number of people with COVID in the hospital continue to increase, and some of our hospitals are starting to feel the strain.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (09:02)
So here’s where we are. Surveillance data has increased. It gets a red X. North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is up. It gets a red X. North Carolina’s trajectory and percent of tests returning positive has increased slightly. It gets a yellow line. North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is increasing. We still have capacity, but hospitals, again, are feeling the strain. It gets a yellow line. Now that we’ve taken a look at our statewide metrics, let’s see what’s happening more locally. As the governor mentioned, given the recent acceleration in our trends, we thought it was critical to give counties an updated data and to help them with their decision-making. Therefore, we updated the COVID-19 County Alert System with data from November 6th, through November 19th. As we shared last week, we created the County Alert System to help North Carolinians know how their counties are fairing and what they need to do to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (10:02)
The report outlines needed actions for individuals, businesses, and public officials. As a reminder, we use a combination of three metrics to categorize counties. First, we use case rates per 100,000 people over 14 days. We use percent of tests that are positive, and lastly, a composite hospital impact score. Using these metrics, we categorize counties into three colored tiers to describe their level of viral spread and healthcare capacity impact. Red represents critical, orange, substantial, yellow, significant. And so here is the updated map showing the state which has counties meeting critical for red and orange. 20 counties are red with critical community spread. That’s double the amount we were seeing just last week. 42 counties are orange with substantial community spread, and the remaining are yellow with significant community spread. Remember, we still have a high level of concern for our yellow counties. People in counties that are yellow should take actions to ensure they don’t become orange or red.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (11:13)
Our statewide metrics and County Alert map show that we are on very shaky ground. I do not want to see the bottom fall out. I’m particularly concerned about our record number of people in the hospital. The coming weeks will be a true test of our resolve to do what it takes to keep people from getting sick, to save lives and to make sure you have a hospital care for whether it’s a heart attack, a car accident, or COVID-19 when you need it. We know so much more about this pandemic than we did back in March when we had our first case. We need to put that knowledge to use, particularly when the actions are simple and the effects are profound. Masks work. They protect people around you and they can give you the protections as well. COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets that travel through the air when you talk, when you cough, when you sneeze, shout or sing.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (12:15)
That’s where the mask comes in. It’s a barrier. Studies show masks reduce the spray of respiratory droplets. According to the CDC’s chief medical officer, the more people who wear a mask, the more the community is protected and therefore the more you individually benefit. With our trends where they are, I am asking you to please consider celebrating Thanksgiving differently this year. The safest thing we can do for our loved ones is to follow the CDC guidance and avoid traveling and getting together in person, especially indoors. If you still do get together, please do everything possible to decrease the risk of your spreading COVID-19 to friends and family. Keep it small, keep it outdoors and wear a mask all the time. Many North Carolinians got-

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (13:03)
Mask all the time. Many North Carolinians got tested this weekend ahead of the holidays. Getting a test can let you know if you might have COVID at that moment, but you don’t yet have symptoms. If you tested positive, stay home. If you tested negative, that is not a definitive answer or a free pass. A test is only one moment in time. Tests are not perfect and you could be exposed in the time after you got the test. Even if you have a negative test, you must still wear a mask and stay six feet apart. As chef Cheetie Kumar from Garland said last week when she was with us, act as if you could have COVID and could be contagious. Wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash your hands often. Don’t lose hope. We are so close. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing data on the first vaccine right now to confirm that it’s safe and can prevent people from getting this virus. Until then, I know we can do our part to protect each other. Whatever your reason, get behind the mask. Thank you.

Gov. Cooper: (14:18)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. As you can see, our numbers are too high. Hospitals and healthcare workers are strained and more counties are moving into the orange and red zones. We’ve taken strong steps to prevent the spread of this virus. And today, we’ll do more. Our statewide mass requirement has been in effect since June, and it is still our best weapon in this fight. Today’s executive order will further tighten the mandate, making it clear that everyone needs to wear a mask whenever you are with someone you don’t live with. That means wearing a mask when you’re at home, when you’re with friends or family visiting, and it means a mask at work, at the gym, at the store, at school. This order also strengthens the role of businesses in ensuring masks are worn by everyone in the store, staff and customers, and that they are abiding by capacity limits so that people can stay distant and can stay safe.

Gov. Cooper: (15:24)
Today’s order builds on our action to limit gatherings to 10 people indoors. Our indoor bar closures, our occupancy restrictions for retail stores, restaurants and other public businesses, along with our mask mandate. Mass distance, small gatherings, all of these are critical during the holidays and cold months ahead. The order extends these protections through December 11th. Wearing a mask over our mouth and nose is the best thing we can do to prevent the spread of this virus. It costs so little, but it does a lot to put countless dollars back into our economy, by making it safer to visit stores and other businesses. When we rolled out our county alert map last week, we asked local governments to work with us and step up enforcement. One of those is the city of Greensboro, and I’d like to ask Greensboro Mayor, Nancy Vaughan, to tell us what they are doing. Mayor Vaughan.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: (16:33)
Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to talk about the enhanced state of emergency that the city of Greensboro enacted on Friday. In consultation with our healthcare providers and with the busy season upon us, we saw the need to increase enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols. Our positivity rate is increasing and our hospital beds are decreasing. We were fortunate that Cone Health brought online the recently decommissioned women’s hospital as a COVID care hospital. It added another 118 beds to their system. In essence, it became our field hospital. Without these additional beds, we would already be over capacity. Two months ago, we had an average of 36 patients in the Cone Health system. One month ago, we had an average of 81 cases. This past weekend, we had 133 patients hospitalized with 27 of those patients in ICU. Based on Cone’s internal projections, we are on track to have 200 to 300 people by February or March.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: (17:52)
Our numbers are doubling every 27 days. According to Cone Health, 230 people have died in Guilford County since the start of the pandemic. At the rate we are going, they predict we could have 100 more by the end of this year. Greensboro has been enforcing the masking ordinance. But what we found is that most businesses just factored it in as the cost of doing business. We were also challenged by using law enforcement to enforce the order since their resources were already stretched thin. As of Friday, we gave our city manager the ability to utilize other departments, such as code enforcement, special events and parking enforcement ,to enforce the existing regulations and restrictions. At this time, we did not add any additional restrictions, but we enacted a penalty for exceeding permitted capacity. Businesses can face a civil fine of $100 for each person over the permitted capacity. This is strictly about overcrowding. This part is not tied to people wearing masks.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: (19:13)
Secondly, all businesses must enforce the face covering requirement on all their employees. Face coverings must cover the nose and mouth. Again, this is taking responsibility for their employees, not the actions of the general public. Any employee who is in contact with the general public must wear a face covering. Employees who are not in regular contact with the general public must wear a face covering if they cannot physically distance themselves from other coworkers. However, based on the announcement today, all employees must wear a face covering inside whether or not they’re interacting with the general public. All businesses must post capacity limits on all entrances and the governor’s order to wear a face covering. Proper spacing as per the governor’s order must be maintained. For example, spacing of tables in a restaurant or standing six feet apart when you’re waiting in line. Hand sanitizer must be provided.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: (20:26)
Now, if a business is found to be in substantial violation of the above requirements, first they’ll be warned. But if we come back a second time and the violations remain, they can be closed for 24 hours. If the city comes back a third time and the violations still remain, they can be closed for 48 hours. If the city comes back a fourth time and the violations remain, they can be closed for 72 hours. This is a health and safety issue. It’s important to note that this enhanced state of emergency does not penalize the business for their customer’s behavior, only their own. They are in control of enforcement actions. This weekend, teams of city employees visited over 100 businesses to explain the new enhanced state of emergency and what it means to them. We expect that they’ll visit another 50 today. These businesses are businesses that we know have a history of compliance issues.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: (21:37)
Starting tomorrow, the city manager will have a broad cross section of compliance teams. Just in the last two days, we’ve seen greater compliance. It’s simple. In a time of a health emergency, we all need to do our part. Supplies are limited. Frontline healthcare workers are doing a great job, but their capacity is limited. Many business owners have expressed to me their fear of another shutdown. I don’t want that either. I want to keep them in business. I want our kids to go back to school. But we must work together to change the trajectory of our numbers. We must reduce the positivity rate. Let’s do our part to keep business in business. Thank you.

Gov. Cooper: (22:35)
Thanks, Mayor Vaughan, for your leadership on this matter. I know that other local governments are considering and taking tough action too, and we appreciate their efforts to protect their communities. We know what works in our fight against this pandemic, wear a mask, wash your hands, wait six feet apart from others. These can help us make it safely to the other side of this pandemic. But as I said at the outset, how we get to the other side is up to each of you. We want people to follow the safety guidelines to slow the spread. If they don’t, the rules need to be enforced and we’re working with state and local governments to do just that. We don’t want to go backward, but we will if it’s necessary. The next seven to 14 days will tell us whether we are stemming the tide or whether we need to ratchet it up even more. We know the other side of this pandemic is not very far off, because we have such promising vaccines in the world. Until then, our safety measures will save lives and keep our economy going until we get across the bridge.

Gov. Cooper: (23:45)
Last week, the CDC recommended against going to see extended family and friends for Thanksgiving. Please listen to that guidance and adjust your plans as needed. Remember when it comes to the holidays, smaller and smarter is safer. I know it’s been a long nine months of virtual church, holidays, birthdays and more, but if we can keep it up just a bit longer, we can ensure that more loved ones make it to next year’s Thanksgiving table. We’ve presented a lot of information today, but our message remains the same. This virus is deadly. It’s spreading too fast and it’s up to each one of us to slow it down. Also with us today is the Department of Emergency Management Chief of Staff, Will Ray. David Payne and Monica McGee are our sign language interpreters. And behind the scenes, Jackie Metivier and Erica [inaudible 00:24:43] are our Spanish language interpreters. We’ll now take questions from the media and we’ll take the first one. If you can identify yourself and your organization, we would appreciate that. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (24:58)
Our first question is from Laura Lee with Carolina Public Press.

Laura Lee: (25:04)
Thank you, governor. This is Laura Lee with Carolina Public Press. You all have talked extensively about critical staffing needs, and it’s now a metric that’s included in your composite hospital score. And I’m just wondering, particularly for places like we just saw Gilford change to high in terms of the hospital score for places that are having these staffing needs, we talked about the beds there. Are there plans at the state level to deploy staff from other hospitals, either in the state or out of state? Should the staffing needs become the really critical piece of this puzzle?

Gov. Cooper: (25:38)
Thanks. Good question. We know that hospital bed capacity and ICU bed capacity is something that we want to keep available for the people of North Carolina. We learned a lot in March, April, May, June when hospitals surged, eliminated elective surgeries, and got ready for the spike that really never came. We’ve worked…

Governor Cooper: (26:03)
… for the spike that really never came. We’ve worked really hard to keep our virus spread a more level, but we learned a lot, and these hospitals now know when they need to go into their surge mode, and Dr. Cohen has been talking with them on a frequent basis, and I have been talking with them as well. The state is prepared to help with a surge if necessary. There is a facility available that the state has rented in the event that we would need to open an additional space, but I’ll let Dr. Cohen talk specifically about what the state can do to help the hospitals that specifically have these strains. So, Dr. Cohen?

Dr. Cohen: (26:48)
Thank you, Governor, and thanks, Laura, for the question. Our people resources, our doctors, our nurses, our respiratory techs, they are our precious commodity as we think about our capacity to be able to surge additional beds, and it is a real concern. We do have physical space here in the state, but is the people that we are paying a lot of attention to. The reality is that with a pandemic spreading as fast as it is, not just here in North Carolina but around the country, there isn’t the same ability for us to pick up the phone and phone a friend in a neighboring state in order to bring in some surges of folks, because right now, frankly, they’re all in the Midwest helping some very, very serious situations there where they have absolutely no hospital beds, and they’re asking nurses who have COVID right now to keep working. It’s dire in the Midwest.

Dr. Cohen: (27:42)
We don’t want that here, and we also know that there are not going to be the people resources. I think that is why we are so focused on making sure that we can slow the spread of this virus right now. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve had an ability to recruit volunteers through a state process, and we’ve been able to deploy those staffing resources largely to our long-term care facilities. We’ve used that in our long-term care facilities, because if they aren’t able to be staffed, unfortunately, those folks in nursing homes can get shuttled to hospitals that are already strained. So our focus on the state in terms of staffing capacity has really been in our long-term care and nursing home space to make sure we can focus on our frail that are in those spaces.

Dr. Cohen: (28:29)
When I speak with hospital CEOs on a weekly basis, we talk about how we need to be working together on the transparency of protecting our people resources. It’s as the governor mentioned. Hospitals are already looking and decreasing their elective procedures and surgeries in order to make sure they have both the beds and the staff to be able to care for the folks that come through their doors. It’s going to be something we watch incredibly closely, but I think the bottom line is we need to work together today to slow the spread, to do the things that we need to so everyone has a doctor and a nurse and a bed there for them if they need it, whether they have COVID or a heart attack or a car accident. We want to make sure you have the resources you need, and so we’re working very hard on that, but everyone plays a role in it. Thanks.

Governor Cooper: (29:23)
Next question, please.

Speaker 3: (29:26)
Follow up. Laura Lee, Carolina Public Press.

Laura Lee: (29:32)
Thank you for that answer. When we’re talking about trying to fill the staffing capacity or the staffing needs, I’m sorry, one of the measures that hospitals take is to financially incentivize staff to pick up shifts that may have availability but aren’t currently working that. Are there any plans at the moment or in the future for increased funding to enable the hospitals to incentivize those contracts for current employees?

Governor Cooper: (30:01)
We have pushed for more funding on both the federal and state level, and this is one of many areas that need attention by Congress. A fourth stimulus package will be critical to help us with PPE, with testing, with helping our small businesses and helping our hospital and medical facilities, and I would expect that funding would be available. Particularly when these hospitals have to reduce or maybe even eliminate their elective surgeries, that really affects their bottom line, so we need to make sure that our hospitals are supported financially, and we’re going to continue to push Congress. Dr. Cohen, would you like to add to that? Okay. Next question, please.

Speaker 3: (30:50)
Our next question is from Dawn Vaughan with the News and Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (30:55)
Hi. Dawn Vaughan With the News and Observer. Thanks for taking the question. I know you did the early update with a statewide alert to some of the counties. Is that something that you’ll look at updating maybe every 14 days, because that’s the data to look at? Have you gotten any requests from the red counties or other counties for help? And then also, some Republican senators had sent you a letter, Governor Cooper, saying that the rural broadband expansion money wasn’t going to be allocated. Is that correct, or is it being used for something else?

Governor Cooper: (31:28)
Okay. This is a multi-phase question, but first, we had planned to put out the county alert map about every four weeks, and we decided to go ahead and release another one right now because we have seen an increase over the past couple of weeks, and we wanted to encourage local governments to begin the process like Greensboro of ratcheting up their enforcement for all of us to work together so we can increase compliance and enforcement. So we wanted the state to see a snapshot of where it is right now. The plan I think would be to update it every four weeks, but we can do it sooner than that if we need to. These next seven to 14 days are going to be critical in looking at the science and the data to determine where we are and what additional we might need to do. This mask mandate, ratcheting up on it and ratcheting up on enforcement and compliance and getting more buy-in is going to be critical over the next couple of weeks.

Governor Cooper: (32:34)
On high speed internet access, on broadband in rural areas, this is a priority for me. In fact, I think we should have a bond that would put a quarter of a billion dollars into this effort. The issue you’re talking about is Great Grants, and we very much want to fund the Great Grants program, and I’ve been pushing for that. One of the problems with the coronavirus relief funding that we’re getting from Congress, it was passed quickly, billions of dollars, and the treasury regulations on how this money can be invested is continuing to evolve and change. This money was halted for the time being because the interpretation was that it violated the federal treasury regs. We’re working closely with legislators, with members of Congress, with the US Treasury. We want to get funding to rural broadband areas, and I’m going to keep fighting for that. It’s absolutely critical. You need to answer? Okay. Next question.

Speaker 3: (33:43)
You have a follow-up, Dawn Vaughan, News and Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (33:48)
Thanks. Just to follow up, you said that the mask mandate is ratcheting up on enforcement and compliance. I haven’t seen the order yet. What specifically outside of things that Greensboro is doing is going to be on the state level for ratcheting that up?

Governor Cooper: (34:02)
We’re putting more responsibility on retailers to enforce the mask mandate in their stores, and we are working with state and local officials to ramp up that enforcement. The mask mandate is simpler. There are more requirements for when you need to have a mask, and what I’ll do is recognize Dr. Cohen. They’ve been looking at the science of all of this, and more and more it shows that mask are more important, so we’ve put it out there that you need to wear it in situations where you are with someone who is not in your household. And I’ll call on Dr. Cohen to say a few words about this.

Dr. Cohen: (34:48)
Thank you, Governor. Yes, very simply, you need to be wearing a mask when you’re around anyone who is not from your household. That’s the simple bottom line. The executive order does outline a number of locations and settings in which we want to make sure folks wear masks and tighten down on some of those languages. But it is everywhere that you are with someone who is not a member of your household, whether that’s going to be at school, at the gym, at work, at shopping. Wherever you are going, please bring a mask. That is what we want to make sure we are doing, and I think it gives our local municipalities some much greater ability to regulate that, and it’s just much more clear.

Dr. Cohen: (35:32)
On the enforcement side, again, as the governor mentioned, particularly for our larger retails retail stores, we want someone at the door not just saying, “Please wear a mask,” but also managing the occupancy limit. As a reminder, in our retail stores, we’re asking for a 50% occupancy limit, and we need to, as we go into the shopping season for the holidays, make sure that we are not overcrowding our spaces. Masks are important as is distance, so those two together are going to be really important, and we need the support of our business partners in order to make sure that that goes well for their employees and for their patrons. Thanks.

Governor Cooper: (36:15)
Next question, please.

Speaker 3: (36:18)
Our next question is from Rose Hoban with North Carolina Health News.

Rose Hoban: (36:22)
Hi, folks. Thank you very much for taking my question. It’s not particularly on what you folks are talking about today. We’ve reported on the fact that we’ve had a number of deaths in veteran’s homes that are run by a private entity, and their contracts coming up for renewal, and what the state has chosen to do is give them a one-year extension and review their contract next year. In other states where there have been deaths in veteran’s homes, there’s been an effort to hold folks accountable. There’s been indictment, so why did you not do a more thorough review of this year?

Governor Cooper: (37:13)
Well, first we know that the virus can spread much more easily in congregate care, and that is why we’ve ratcheted up testing, why we have provided additional help to our nursing homes, and it’s absolutely critical to save the lives of veterans. It’s important to hold anyone accountable for deaths that occur, and if they’ve done something wrong, then it needs to be corrected, and I’ll certainly have a conversation with the secretary of that department about that issue. Next question.

Speaker 3: (37:55)
Follow up, Rose Hoban, North Carolina Health News.

Rose Hoban: (38:00)
Different and somewhat related to what Laura Lee was asking. There are other healthcare personnel, folks like clinical nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, et cetera. Is there any thought about giving those types of healthcare personnel a waiver so that they can practice to the top of their license and perhaps free up some other healthcare personnel who might be getting overloaded?

Governor Cooper: (38:35)
We have provided some waivers for healthcare personnel in this emergency, and I’ll let Dr. Cohen address that specifically.

Dr. Cohen: (38:49)
Thanks, Rose. Thanks for the question. Yes. As the governor mentioned, we have put actually a lot of waiver flexibility as part of our response effort. It was done back in the spring, both so folks can use space differently as well as using their staff different …

Dr. Cohen: (39:03)
And use space differently as well as using their staff differently to make sure that they are meeting the needs of our state so those waivers are still in place and are still active. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (39:17)
Next question, please.

Speaker 4: (39:18)
Our next question is from Ashley Tally with WRL.

Ashley Tally: (39:23)
Hello, thanks for taking my question. Two-fold question. One, I just want to be clear that the state and there’s no state enforcement that you’re talking about, what the Greensboro mayor spoke about. It’s her city decision, but this would be up to the new municipalities if I’m hearing correctly. And then my second question is about contact tracing. And if you’re seeing that businesses are where the virus is being spread, which is why the focus may be on them for the strengthened mask rule. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (39:53)
Well, thanks. The enforcement of the executive order can be done by local and state law enforcement, local health departments, the state department of health and human services. So all of those enforcement tools are available. We wanted to particularly lift up Greensboro today because they’ve been innovative in what they are doing to try to achieve more enforcement, particularly of the mass band-aid and occupancy limits. And they are using more of their employees and not just relying on law enforcement. So there are multiple ways that we can enforce this order, and we’re trying to ratchet all of those up because we really need compliance and enforcement of the order. And I’ll let Secretary Cohen handle the next part.

Dr. Cohen: (40:43)
Thanks for the question. As you know, we post data on our website related to some of our contact tracing. It is at a high level, so you can get a sense of what types of settings that are risky. But in a nutshell, it is essentially anywhere where someone may be gathering and they’re not wearing masks consistently. And I think that’s why we are ratcheting up our expectation on businesses to be our partner here. We know they want to see folks come through their doors and shop safely. And so this is just a component of helping us make sure that everyone is wearing a mask when they are together and they may be shopping, but also that we are maintaining distance and making sure those occupancy limits are also recognized. Particularly as we go into this holiday shopping season, we want to make sure that folks are safe. We don’t want to have to go backwards, so this is our call to say, “Let’s all pull together as a state, business leaders, those in our faith community, our municipal partners, how can we all play a role in making sure that we are stemming the tide of this virus?” We know that there is a vaccine that’s out there just a few weeks and months away, so if we all work together, I think that’s the goal of today’s actions. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (42:06)
Next question, please.

Speaker 4: (42:09)
Our next question is from Chandler Morgan with WBTV.

Chandler Morgan: (42:15)
Hi governor. This is Chandler Morgan from WBTV. Many parents and teachers here in the Charlotte area are concerned over required in-person end of semester testing, which is still planned to go on as usual. Now, this testing requires students, even those who opted for full remote options in their districts to come back and take those tests in person. CMS requested a waiver from the US Department of Education for these in-person federal and state mandated tests. My question is, has there been any talk within state administration of waiving this testing?

Governor Cooper: (42:51)
Yeah. I have concerns about that as well and I understand what’s happening now at the state board of education is they’re looking at ways to try to deal with this. This is a federal requirement that they do this, so that is why CMS has asked the federal department to provide this waiver. But I understand the concerns that parents and students might have and the state board of education is working on this issue. Next question, please.

Speaker 4: (43:26)
Our next question is from Katie Peralto with the Charlotte Agenda.

Katie Peralto: (43:33)
Hello, good afternoon. This is Katie Peralto with the Charlotte Agenda. At what point will the state begin to tighten restrictions? In other words, is there a certain metric or threshold that y’all are looking at that you would decide, “Okay, now is the time to start implementing the curfew or lowering capacity limits,” for instance?

Governor Cooper: (43:49)
We have to remember that we have a number of safeguards that are already in place. We have a mass gathering limit of 10 people indoors. We have indoor bars that are closed. We have a 50% capacity in restaurants and retail, and we have a mask requirement that has been fortified today. And the purpose of today is to let people know that we’re getting to a critical situation. We believe that with these rules in place, that if we get more compliance and better enforcement then we can stem the tide without having to go backward with the restrictions. And we’re going to be looking at the next seven to 14 days to determine if these things are working. And if not, we will do what we need to do to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians. And we hope we don’t have to do that, but we will do it if we need to. Next question, please.

Speaker 4: (44:59)
Our next question is from Brian Anderson with the Associated Press.

Brian Anderson: (45:06)
Hi governor. Just falling off of the previous question, it doesn’t seem like this order reduces occupancy requirements or ceasing of business operations. And I’m just curious, why not do that when the trends are looking in a negative direction on pretty much every metric you look at?

Governor Cooper: (45:25)
Well, number one, we have hospital capacity. Number two, our percent positive is around 7%. And we’ve seen both of these things skyrocket where other states don’t have hospital capacity and other states have positivity rates in the double digits. Our numbers are going up, but things are not on fire yet. And we know that we have the key to stemming the tide and that is enforcing the safeguards that we already have in place. This order today helps to strengthen those and helps to provide more resources and getting more partners into this in order to be able to get more compliance with the orders that we have in place. And we want to give this a little more time to see if we can stem the tide of these numbers.

Governor Cooper: (46:28)
I have a belief that the people of North Carolina can pull together and do this and understand that if we don’t, we will have to go backward. But right now, we think this is the right move where it’s a call to arms to the people of North Carolina that we have to pull together and do what we need to do to stem the tide of these numbers. Next question, please

Speaker 4: (46:56)
Follow up. Brian Anderson, Associated Press.

Brian Anderson: (47:00)
Hi, thanks for the followup. And you’ve talked for a while about the lack of a federal stimulus deal in your frustration with lawmakers and deal makers on both sides for that. Why not call a special session here in North Carolina for state lawmakers to provide additional aid in the absence of that federal support that you’re hoping for? And also for Dr. Cohen, we heard from DHHS that if people have a complaint about businesses not complying with the mask mandate, that they should talk to their local health department. And I’m just curious if there’s any plan for a statewide system for people to submit their complaints directly to the state.

Governor Cooper: (47:45)
Well, the answer to the first part of your question, Brian is everything is on the table to try to provide help to the people of North Carolina. We are still working feverishly to invest the funds that have been appropriated by the federal government by the end of the year. But we know that we’re going to need significantly more. And we’re hearing a little more positive talk from Washington about the potential of getting something done soon, but everything including calling the General Assembly back is on the table to try to fight this pandemic. And we’re hoping that we can get some additional federal relief soon and I’ll let Dr. Cohen handle the other part of the question.

Dr. Cohen: (48:32)
Hi Brian. Yes. So when we put out our county alert map, we did highlight the fact that the state, the Department of Health and Human Services can help with enforcement activity at the local level. But we really think it is important for us to do that in coordination with our local health departments. They’re a really critical partner. They’re our eyes and ears on the ground. They’re the people on the ground often. And so we want to make sure folks are noticing violations of the executive order. Please get in touch with your local health department. Either they have their own authorities that they could be using locally and if they need support from us, we are certainly happy to partner with them, but we want to make sure that we are maintaining that local connection because again, it is such a critical partnership that we have with them.

Dr. Cohen: (49:18)
So no centralized intake for the state. We want to make sure most of our public health departments have a complaint intake or a line where they can report concerns. We want to use that process that already exists, that folks are aware of because it keeps our county partners engaged, again because they are our eyes and ears on the ground. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (49:43)
Next question, please.

Speaker 4: (49:46)
Our final question today is from Rashida Cava with WGHP.

Rashida Cava: (49:51)
Hi there. Thank you for taking my question. This is Rashida with Fox 8 News in Greensboro. My question is, world health leaders have said that on Thanksgiving these cases are expected to skyrocket. What is your message to business owners that relief will be there for them and that they are important in this fight against COVID-19 of course, and helping it, but also this is their livelihood? What is the message that you can give to them? Maybe words of hope that could help them get through this time that you guys and your administration will put them forward and possibly get them some relief funds.

Governor Cooper: (50:30)
First, I would tell businesses the more we can do to slow the spread of the virus, the more money will be in the economy, and more money will go in their pockets. And enforcing occupancy limits and mask mandates can also attract more customers to you because people will feel safer. Excuse me. People will feel safer in a store where people are wearing masks and people are being socially distant. We’ve put several programs in place to provide financial relief for small businesses. We’re looking forward to additional federal funding to help replenish that. Small businesses in North Carolina are the backbone of our economy. We need to continue to help them. And one of the very best ways to do it is slow the spread of this virus, and we’re going to keep working with them to get that done. Thank you all for joining us today and please stay safe over the holidays. Thank you.