NC's Covid state of emergency to be lifted Aug. 15, Gov. Cooper announces

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the new state budget gives state health officials the flexibility they need to keep the public protected.

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NC Gov. Roy Cooper discusses Covid-19 pandemic
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that he’d soon lift a state of emergency order dating back to the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The initial order Cooper issued in March 2020 has undergone many changes and was largely stripped after vaccines became widely available last year. But Cooper has kept the emergency declaration in place because the state Department of Health and Human Services wanted to make sure health care systems had the necessary staff to deal with an evolving public health issue.

Starting on Aug. 15, the order will be lifted.

The change comes as Cooper signed a $27.9 billion spending plan that included provisions the governor and state health officials wanted. Most states ended their states of emergency well before North Carolina, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Most people will not see changes in their day-to-day lives from the end of the order,” said Mary Scott Winstead, a spokesperson for Cooper. “The State of Emergency has continued to allow regulatory flexibility in the health care industry necessary for the state's response and standing orders from the State Health Director that make it easier to get tested, vaccinated and treatment for Covid-19.”

The emergence of a new variant, which may prove more resistant to vaccines, has some health experts concerned, but for now known transmission rates are at an all-time low, Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at telehealth company eMed, told CNN. Cases are undercounted, though, in part because of readily available at-home tests that often go unreported to public health officials.
Even so, North Carolina saw an uptick in cases in recent weeks. Hospitalizations have seen a rise as well, though they remain far below the peaks the state hit over the last two years, including the most recent spike, in January, that saw more than 5,000 people hospitalized at once. Last week fewer than 900 people in the state were hospitalized with Covid-19, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services figures.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the Omicron offshoot BA.5 became the dominant variant last week. In North Carolina, BA.5 first showed up in early May. By the week ending June 25, it made up about 38% of cases sequenced. Official Covid-19 case metrics severely undercount the true number of infections.

State health department shows the daily share of Covid tests that are positive surpassed 20% from June 28 to July 2, the most recent data available. The last time North Carolina saw at least five consecutive days of a positivity rate above 20% was between Dec. 28, 2021, and Feb. 2.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and several of his colleagues have long called on Cooper to let the directive expire. Moore even held a mock birthday celebration with cake that commemorated the two-year anniversary of Cooper’s order. The top House Republican wasn’t immediately unavailable to comment on Cooper’s decision to let the order end next month.

During a confirmation hearing last month, Cooper’s top public health official, Kody Kinsley, was asked what would be needed to bring an end to the state of emergency. He and Cooper were satisfied with language in the budget that they say gives medical providers and systems the tools they need to maintain adequate staffing levels, administer Covid-19 tests and vaccines and keep the public safe.

In a March letter, Kinsley asked lawmakers to waive certain state administrative rules and to give clearer authority to the state health director for administering and delivering vaccines.

On Tuesday, the state health department said the newly enacted budget includes provisions that allow for standing orders from the state health director for Covid-19 testing, vaccines and treatments through the end of 2023.

The spending plan also lets NC DHHS to waive rules for health care facilities and nursing homes so they can expand bed capacity and so ambulances can continue to have one Emergency Medical Technician and one licensed driver instead of two EMTs. Additionally, the budget provides a grace period for lead and asbestos inspectors to get re-certified because the process requires an in-person course that wasn't offered during part of the pandemic.

Kinsley was unanimously confirmed by the state Senate, allowing him to become the permanent head of the state health department rather than its acting director.

“The State of Emergency and the executive orders that followed saved lives and were essential to the state's response throughout the Covid-19 pandemic,” Winstead said.

WRAL State Government Reporter Travis Fain contributed to this report.


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