Bill allowing bars to reopen clears House, Senate despite rise in COVID-19 cases

Bill overturning bar closures clears Senate despite rise in COVID-19 cases

RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators are wading into Gov. Roy Cooper’s business reopening decisions. The state Senate and House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to let bars serve customers outdoors, despite his recent executive order keeping them closed due to COVID-19.

The bill will allow bars to be treated like restaurants, meaning they can open at 50% capacity. It also allows restaurants to expand outdoor seating. The bill now heads to Cooper’s desk.

The governor said his decision shuttering bars until at least late June is based on data and science, but Republicans and some business owners have questioned his orders, calling them uneven and devastating to the state economy.

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Cooper said he understands the order’s impact on businesses but he must also consider people’s health.

Just six days into Phase 2, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 related illnesses has jumped for the third time this week.

Hospitalizations are one of the key trends the state uses to decide if we can move forward in the reopening plan. As of Thursday, there were 708 people in the hospital, which is six more than Wednesday and 130 more than this time a week ago.

An additional 784 people have also tested positive for the virus, which represents about 8% of the tests administered.

The data is not perfect, but the governor said the hospital systems are in a good position to handle the caseload.

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen issued a statement about the bill approved to reopen bars: “The measures we have taken have been informed by public health experts, science and North Carolina’s data to protect people from this highly contagious and, for some, very dangerous virus. Thursday’s legislative action was not informed by any of those things.”

There has been some fluctuation of the percent positive statistic, but that really varies based on how testing is administered that day and if congregate living facilities are being tested in mass numbers.

Despite the rising number, the state Senate and House voted to reopen bars and allow restaurants to expand outdoor capacity.

The governor was not thrilled. At a news conference, he questioned why leaders would even consider opening more close-contact businesses with cases across the state increasing.

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Cooper said the metrics show why North Carolina needs to take a slow reopening approach.

He does not seem likely to sign the bill.

Cooper also addressed the President at the news conference after Trump gave him a deadline of one week to decide if Republicans could pack out the Spectrum Center for the Republican National Convention.

The governor said he would like the RNC to be in Charlotte, but he also made it clear he’s not operating under any specific timelines.

He said he wants to hold the event, but it has to be safe.

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