Governor Cooper responds to NCGOP criticism over cancelled Greenville convention

Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 12:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2020 at 10:09 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Governor Roy Cooper responded to claims made by the NCGOP at this morning’s press conference in Greenville.

On Thursday during his COVID-19 task force update, Cooper said that his administration did try to work with convention officials.

“The department of health and human services, the state health director, worked with them just as they would any other organization that would want to hold a large gathering. Recommended against it particularly when you’re seeing these spikes in other states and you’re seeing COVID-19 being spread indoors in large crowds,” Cooper said, “But also provided some suggestions to them if they were going to hold it anyway. I commend them for making the decision to cancel the in person part of their convention, I think it was a smart thing for them to do.”

During this morning’s press conference, NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley said about their safety efforts to have the convention, “The letter that we got back said that despite the fact we were willing to take those this was still going to be a high risk event with an unacceptable high risk with it so at that point in time that was the decision we made forward.

“There were a number of other recommendations that the governor’s staff said if you are going to move forward despite the fact that it’s over our opposition that you should take additional steps like limiting the population inside the hall but really the decision by the governor when they declared this to be a high risk event and informed us of that, that’s really what made the decision for us,” Whatley said.

DHHS e-mailed WITN the letter it sent to the NCGOP on June 29th regarding its disapproval of holding the convention, but also recommendations if they decided to proceed.

You can read it below:

Dear Mr. Thomas

Thank you for your communication about the North Carolina GOP Convention Proposal.

As we discussed, North Carolina’s COVID-19 current trends are concerning. Our emergency department visits for

COVID-like symptoms are increasing. Our new daily case counts are increasing. The percent of total tests that are

positive has remained elevated. Our COVID-19 hospitalizations have been increasing.

In addition, the Convention is a high-risk event. It will bring together a large number of people, it is indoor, people will

be stationary, and there may be a significant proportion of people who are over 65 or have an underlying health condition.

All of these factors make this event high risk for viral transmission and for severe illness for those who may become


With the trends across the state as they are and the risk of the event, my recommendation from a public health standpoint

would be to not hold the event. The risk of this event could result in a large number of cases and severely ill people

requiring hospitalizations and could jeopardize our ability to move forward in easing restrictions.

Despite these warnings, you insist you will proceed with the event. We have discussed ways you could further modify the

event beyond your proposed plan to decrease the risk.

1. You stated the in-person attendance would be approximately 600, which is less than the original expected number

of 1250. You also stated that attendance at the meals are typically lower than at the business meetings. These

numbers will not include Convention center staff. Recommendations for occupancy and density for indoor

settings are 50% of fire code or 12 people per 1000 square feet, whichever is less.

Per the original proposal,

Meals in Hall A. Based on GCC website, Hall A is 5400 square feet. 5400

This area at 12 people per 1,000 square feet would be limited to 65 people. Not counting Center staff.

Business Sessions planned to be held in Halls B+C – based on GCC web site, total area for both of 12, 600 square


This area at 12 people per 1,000 square feet would be limited to 151 persons. Not counting Center staff.

You stated you could open up the meeting rooms and use more of the convention center space, in order to reduce

density closer to 12 people per 1,000 square feet and ensure adequate social distancing of 6 feet between people.

2. You will require masks, which is especially important in this setting due to large number of attendees and the potential high number of people at high risk for severe illness.

3. Attendees will be made aware of the risk of attending this event.

4. High risk attendees will be encouraged to participate remotely and many have used that option.

a. Would also recommend added pre-cautions for those attendees with high risk for severe illness. (e.g., age >65, chronic health conditions.) Would ensure there is a way to minimize face to face contact and ensure they can maintain 6 feet distance from others.

5. You will ensure accurate and complete record keep of attendees and make available the list of attendees for contact tracing if there is an exposure. You will ensure attendees are aware of and agree to follow control measure if an attendee tests positive for COVID-19. This means anyone who tests positive must be isolated for at least 10 days. Any close contacts, defined as someone within 6 feet for 15 minutes or greater, must be quarantined for at least 14 days.

6. We discussed you could follow Large Venue guidance and apply requirement and recommendations for employees/staff to participants. You will do symptom screening of attendees. We discussed you could use the symptom screener you could access in our Large Venue guidance

This guidance also gives details on and specificity on appropriate social distancing cues, hand sanitizer and cleaning agents and protocols, screening questions, and isolation of sick people. Some specifics part of the proposed plan that could be augmented with the guidance are:

a. Enhanced cleaning does not specify chemicals, contact time, or frequency. Recommend adhere to the large venue and restaurant guidance for cleaning specifics.

b. A specific element missing was a plan if an attendee arrives as the event sick, fails the screening, or becomes sick during the event. The Large Venue Guidance includes such guidance from employees, that can be applied to participants.

The planning you have done for this event will reduce risk if these plans are executed and we are willing to continue to work with you to reduce the risk.

Other recommendations we did not discuss

1. Encourage handwashing, in addition to using hand-sanitizer, and consider installing mobile handwashing stations for easy access.

2. “Anti-bacterial gel” is mentioned. However, COVID-19 is spread by the virus SARS- -CoV-2. Need to ensure use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to be effective against the virus.

3. Recommend voting via phone or other mobile device that is not shared among participants.

4. Recommend only have the business meetings and not the receptions. Social distancing will be harder without defined seats, people will have their masks off while drinking, and the nature of the reception may promote social gathering and talking.

5. Coordinate and have frequent communication with Pitt County Health Department and Environmental Health to assist with planning for this event.

6. The Convention planners only mentions the attendees. The Facility should follow Large Venue Guidance, including recommendations and requirements for protection of staff and employees.

7. The Greenville Conventions Center ventilation systems should be assessed by an HVAC professional and they should also work with the convention center to ensure CDC guidance for reopening buildings after prolonged shutdown is followed:

Food Serving

8. Statutes exempt political committees (as defined in GS 163-278.6(74)) from the food regulations, but they would be “operating” as a restaurant, so the applicable standards in the guidance should be applied.

9. Plan mentions that meals will be prepared and served in compliance with “CDC guidelines and state regulations for restaurants.” We recommend FDA guidance for food protection (versus CDC). Coordination with Pitt County Environmental health should be done to find out if they have been consulted and/or what permits the convention center currently holds

10. For buffet, would ensure proper social distancing while people are going through buffet line. Other buffet service guidance includes:

o Provide an attendant at buffet areas to monitor social distancing and remove any contaminated food or utensils.

o Change, clean, and sanitize serving utensils (e.g., tongs, bulk food dispenser spoons) every 30 minutes.

o Have employees plate food for customers or provide increased monitoring of self-service areas.

o Food on display should be protected from contamination by food guards/shields or other effective means.

11. Grab and go boxed meals may be preferred to maintain social distancing and limit contact of common utensils used in buffet settings.

12. Often with plated meals there are self-service components, like bread, salad dressings, butter, etc. Would avoid those items.

13. Recommend providing condiments by request to avoid reuse of condiment or similar containers.

14. Limit beverages served from common containers e.g., pitchers, coffee, etc. In addition, would not have beverage stations in the back of these rooms. They encourage congregation and do not allow for social distancing.

15. Ensure no bare hand contact of ready-to-eat food by using gloves, utensils, or other effective means.

Additional food safety questions to work on with Pitt County Environmental Health

16. GCC has limited capacity to prepare food and the permit is restricted to, “hot dogs, sausage dogs, pizza, pre-packaged snacks, sandwiches hot and cold beverages only.” Will outside vendors be used or will food be catered to GCC from another permitted facility?

17. Will drink services and snacks be provided throughout business meetings? Where will these be served (such as from mobile bars, tables setup in Exhibit Halls, Concession Rooms, etc.)? If so, will these be monitored?

18. If food is catered, how long and at what temperature(s) will it be held prior to being served.

19. How will ice be obtained? Will it only be provided from ice machines on the Convention Center property, or will outside sourced ice be purchased and stored?

We stand ready to provide additional input.


Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, MD, MPH, FAAP, FACPM

State Health Director, Chief Medical Officer

NC Department of Health and Human Services

The North Carolina Republican Party leveled heavy criticism at Governor Roy Cooper and his administration while at the site of their cancelled convention in Greenville.

NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley spoke Thursday morning at the Greenville Convention Center about efforts the party says it made to attempt to proceed safely with its convention originally scheduled for tonight.

“And we were going to have no more than 25% capacity, we were going to have face masks required, we were going to have social distancing, we were actually going to comply with every single one of the governor’s executive orders, all of the state regulations that are in place, as well as CDC guidelines and the best practices from medical experts that we had consulted with and talked to,” Whatley said, “And despite the fact we were willing to take every one of those precautions the word we got back from the governor’s staff was that this was going to be a high risk event and telling us not to do it.”

Whatley claims the governor’s team refused to work with them on making not only the state convention work, but with the RNC on the national convention in Charlotte which has moved to Florida.

Whatley says if you host an event without following the regulations and laws of the state there are civil and criminal penalties that could be attached to it.

A virtual convention will be held tomorrow by the NCGOP.

WITN will be asking Governor Roy Cooper about Whatley’s claims during his 2 p.m. press conference.

There have been 79,349 cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina and 1,461 deaths.

Hospitlizations have hit another record high of 1,034.

Copyright 2020 WITN. All rights reserved.

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