Senate leader calls for restaurants, salons to reopen

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called on Gov. Roy Cooper to grant counties local flexibility to reopen hair salons and barbershops, and to allow restaurants to provide dine in service at reduced capacity.

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Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter, & Kirsten Gutierrez, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The top leader in the North Carolina Senate called on the governor Thursday to relax rules for restaurants and give counties enough flexibility to allow dine-in service at reduced capacity, especially for outdoor seating areas.

It was the second time in two days that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger publicly called on Gov. Roy Cooper to relax specific executive orders on coronavirus-related closures. On Wednesday, Berger called for local flexibility on hair salons and barbershops.

In both cases Berger, R-Rockingham, who leads the Senate's GOP majority, said more than 20 states have allowed these reopenings, including most in the Southeast.

"The majority of states in our region and the country have reviewed the science, facts and data and reached a different conclusion than Gov. Cooper's," he said in a statement Wednesday. "What is his strategic endgame in choosing a different path based on similar facts and data?"

On Thursday, Berger pointed to the wildly varied number of positive tests by county, saying half the counties in North Carolina comprise less than 10 percent of confirmed cases. Cooper, and his secretary of health and human services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, have resisted a county-by-county approach, saying people often live, work and shop in different counties.

The governor reiterated those concerns during his routine afternoon briefing Thursday, but said he remains open to the possibility of a more regional approach. He had been asked about the possibility of closing streets to make more room for outdoor dining.

"All of those issues are under discussion right now," Cooper said. "We are getting a lot of input from local officials who want more freedom to do their own thing in their own county."

Berger suggested several new rules for restaurants including:

  • Avoiding crowded entryways by requiring diners to wait outdoors or encouraging restaurants to provide reservation-only service
  • Requiring disposable menus
  • Denying entry to customers and employees with COVID-like symptoms
  • Spacing tables at least 8 feet apart
  • Restricting maximum restaurant capacities and the number of diners permitted at a single table

The senator said Wednesday that salons and barbershops could schedule customers by appointment only, make sure none are sick, require customers and employees to wear masks, disinfect equipment after each use and remove magazines and other material that could be passed around.

A Raleigh law firm said Thursday that it was prepared to file suit against the governor as soon as Monday and ask the courts to lift restrictions on salons. Attorney Chuck Kitchen sent the administration a letter Wednesday, saying he'd been retained by a group of salon workers.

Kitchen told WRAL News on Thursday that he hopes a lawsuit won't be needed.

"We're waiting to see what the governor does," he said. "We're hoping that the governor actually lifts these restrictions and that's the end of it."

Cooper and Cohen have resisted calls to speed up the phased reopen they've planned for North Carolina. The state entered the first phase of that plan last Friday. The return of dine-in service at restaurants and reopenings for hair and nail salons, all at reduced capacity, are contemplated in the second phase.

That phase is planned for later this month, potentially beginning May 22, depending on infection numbers and other trends. If the transition comes off, Cooper said Thursday, there won't be as much call for regional decisions.

On Wednesday, Cohen said it all comes down to risk and that, for now, state officials are still watching the trends before giving the green light to places where social distancing is difficult to impossible, including at beauty salons.
Salon owners told WRAL they're preparing. Lisa Stanley said she’s bought masks, disposable capes, cleaning supplies and has even taken classes to make sure they’re ready when the day comes.

“We can both wear a mask," Stanley said. "I feel like we’re prepared, we’re educated, we’re professionals and we’re ready to open.”


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