WRAL Investigates

Debate grows over when to reopen NC

Posted April 13, 2020 6:19 p.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2020 4:26 a.m. EDT

— With just over two weeks left in Governor Roy Cooper's executive stay-at-home order, there are increasing calls to start easing restrictions for businesses before it's too late for them to survive.

Those calls also come on the same day new restrictions on retail stores take effect. That executive order limits the number of customers in a store based on the store's size. It also requires certain social distancing measures, like markers telling customers where to stand in line.

"The vast majority of people who are going to be hurt by this are going to be hurt economically," says Ashley Smith, a Boone business owner and co-founder of a new Facebook group called ReopenNC.

The group, which already has more than 22,000 followers, feels the government's reaction to the coronavirus has been overly restrictive.

"People feel like their freedoms and their rights are being infringed upon, and their businesses are suffering," Smith says. "I think the risk does not merit the measures that we're taking to prevent it."

Dr. Mark McClellan of Duke's Fuqua School of Business disagrees.

"The stay-at-home orders have been really important in containing the spread of this epidemic," McClellan says.

"Right now, we're not ready" to ease up on business restrictions, he says, "but I think we can be in a matter of weeks."

McClellan says several factors need to go into that decision, like a consistent downward trend in cases, increased testing and tracing capabilities, and ensuring healthcare can handle a possible surge in cases.

Still, McClellan says the virus will leave a permanent impact, "We can make progress and we can do it soon, but it's not going to be going back to the way it was before."

Smith doesn't feel her group's message is disrespectful to health care workers who are urging the public to stay home. But she feels the decision to open or close a business, or go shopping, should be left up to individuals, "I believe that North Carolinians are intelligent enough to make their own decisions on social distancing and their own healthcare choices."

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