Reopening the Carolinas: Protesters march as Cooper, Fauci issue warnings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The reopening process has started in North Carolina, but there are some who say that process needs to move more quickly.

In Charlotte, we have seen changes since we moved into the first phase of the governor’s reopening plan last Friday. Southpark Mall is back open and we’ve seen a fair amount of traffic, but some are saying the reopenings should move faster and reach farther.

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On Tuesday, protesters were out on the streets in Raleigh again pushing Gov. Roy Cooper to accelerate the reopening process. The protests themselves have been controversial because some of the protesters have been armed and some have been arrested.

Protesters believe that the economic damage caused by the shutdown is greater than the danger of the virus itself. They look across the border to South Carolina, and beyond that to Georgia, where restaurants and other businesses are already open -- and they want the same in North Carolina.

In a news conference Tuesday, Cooper spoke to their concerns, saying North Carolina’s metrics are headed in the right direction. Bu the governor said we need a full 14 days to make sure the numbers are real.

“We are pleased with North Carolina’s numbers,” Cooper said. “I think the people of North Carolina deserve a lot of credit for that, but we are only four days into Phase One, so we have to make sure that people continue to stay at home as much as possible.”

Cooper is getting pressure from some of the Republican political leadership in Raleigh to speed up the re-opening.

Lt. Governor Dan Forest and five other Republican members of the Council of State sent a letter to the governor urging him to reconsider opening restaurants, salons and other businesses, saying: "To date, over 1 million North Carolinians — many in the restaurant and hospitality industry — have filed for unemployment, and less than 45% of them have received any assistance. It is heartbreaking to hear the unending high volume of phone calls many of us receive daily from hopeless citizens down to their last few dollars."

Cooper responded to that letter on Tuesday, saying pandemics cannot be partisan.

“We’re going to rely on the science and the facts telling us when to reopen,” Cooper said. “I know that people are hurting because of this virus and I know that our economy is hurting because of this virus, but the health of our people and the health of our economy go hand in hand.”

The governor has laid out the reopening in three phases, starting with Phase One last weekend.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control”

At the same time as the rally in Raleigh, the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor held a hearing on the coronavirus crisis in Washington, and listened to warnings that moving too soon could make cases spike again.

Leaders heard from several of the people leading the Coronavirus Task Force, including the man who has been the most visible expert on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci said that they have laid out guidelines for safe reopening, including a 2-week decline in coronavirus cases. He said trying to rush reopening would bring problems.

“My concern is that we will see little spikes that will turn into outbreaks ... so we must go by the guidelines that have been delineated,” he said.

Both North and South Carolina have started to reopen. North Carolina is currently in Phase 1, which means nonessential retail businesses and malls are back open at limited capacity.

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Residents can also get together with friends outside, while keeping it to 10 people or less and go hiking.

In South Carolina, restaurants are allowed to do dine-in service, up to 50% of capacity and next week, gyms, public pools and close contact businesses, like salons and massage therapy, can reopen.

In North Carolina, cases are up a bit over the past two weeks, but the percentage of positive cases looks good. In South Carolina, we’re looking in both categories, especially in percent of positive cases.

But any resurgence of cases in the country will have a direct impact in the Carolinas. Fauci testified on Tuesday that he predicts a strong resurgence in cases this fall.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact paradoxically would set you back not only in some suffering and death that could be avoided, it could even set you back on the road to get economic recovery,” he said.

Fears of a “double-dip” recession

Channel 9’s consumer expert, Jason Stoogenke, has been researching what that could mean to our community.

The entire reason behind the push to reopen is the financial hit so many people are taking. There's no question the economy has been in a downward spiral since the outbreak.

Just last week, we reported the surge in unemployment was up to 14.7% -- the highest since the Great Depression.

Many states hope a rapid economic fall will mean an equally rapid rise as soon as things reopen.

But Jason looked over reports from both Harvard and the University of Washington, which say that's not what financial experts expect will happen.

They warn that if we reopen too soon, COVID-19 cases would rebound, forcing people back into lockdowns and ending any economic recovery, creating a “double-dip” recession. That is something the Federal Reserve says we are not ready for -- for three reasons.

First, the stimulus money Congress sent you was meant to be short-term aid and assumed any recovery would last.

Second, many companies are running out of cash reserves from the first downturn and may not be able to withstand a second hit.

And third, and possibly the most dangerous result, is the impact on our own confidence. If people don't trust the recovery will last, they're less likely to spend money, and the economy will have a longer and harder time recovering.

If we can avoid that second spike in cases and second hit in the economy, the Federal Reserve says Charlotte will be in good shape to recover.

They believe the banking industry, which our local economy is so reliant on, is in good shape.