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Phase 2.5? Cooper hints at earlier re-open for gyms, bars

Posted June 4, 2020 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2020 6:44 p.m. EDT

Gov. Roy Cooper hinted Thursday at a potential Phase 2.5 in the state's staged economic re-start, opening the door on the possibility that gyms and bars will open sooner than planned.

The governor didn't provide many details, but he broached the possibility after being asked about pending legislation to force his hand on gyms and bars. Both industries have filed suit to demand they be allowed to reopen.

Lawmakers may soon send Coopera bill overriding his executive order keeping gyms closed in the state. That bill passed a committee Thursday morning with a unanimous vote. They've already passed legislation to open bars, and Cooper has a few days left to decide whether that will become law.

The governor criticized both bills Thursday, saying they take away flexibility the state needs if it sees an uptick on coronavirus cases and he needs to walk back economic re-openings.

But the bar bill got bipartisan support in the General Assembly. If Cooper vetoes it, Democrats who voted for the measure will face a decision: Stand with the governor or keep backing the bill.

The General Assembly's Republican majority doesn't have the numbers to overturn Cooper's veto on its own.

The governor also faces a series of lawsuits from groups trying to force their way back into business, including bars, gyms and bowling alleys.

Asked for more details on a potential Phase 2.5, Cooper repeated a mantra for his administration in this crisis: "We're going to let the science and the data drive decisions here."

But it's possible, he said, that some of the few categories of businesses still closed by state order can open before the start of Phase 3, which is planned for late this month.

If case numbers and other trends make health officials "comfortable being able to turn that dimmer switch up just a little bit," that's when the governor will look at relaxing restrictions, Cooper said.

Thursday's briefing focused largely on a new task force Cooper will appoint to study health disparities around COVID-19, new edicts billed as a way to help minority businesses and a pair of new web pages.

One, called "Check my Symptoms," lets people answer several questions, including whether they've been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and whether they have pre-existing health issues like high blood pressure, then texts or emails them to suggest whether they should be tested for the virus.

The other is a look-up page for COVID-19 testing sites.

The new task force will be named after Andrea Harris, who co-founded the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development and died last month. It will study health and economic disparities for minorities

Some 22 percent of North Carolinians are black, but they make up 30 percent of the state's known COVID-19 cases and 34 percent of the deaths, Cooper said. The numbers are even more stark for Latinos: 10 percent of the state's total population, 40 percent of the state's confirmed cases where race or ethnicity is known.

"These statistics are alarming and they are not acceptable," Cooper said.

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