Counties with ‘concerning’ COVID levels being pushed to tighten restrictions; They’re saying no

A letter signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen suggests ‘counties of concern’ enact their own COVID-19 restrictions like closing bars and restricting mass gatherings.
Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 8:13 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) - The pressure is on for counties to take control of their coronavirus numbers.

A letter, signed by the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Safety, suggests ‘counties of concern’ should enact their own COVID-19 restrictions.

The letter was sent last week to nearly 40 counties, several of which are in Eastern North Carolina.

“We begged the governor for six months to have local control over our shutdowns,” said Royce Bennett, Onslow County Commissioner, which reported its highest single-day of new cases ever two weeks ago.

The letter makes suggestions like limiting restaurant service, closing bars, enacting mass gathering limits, and enforcing stricter alcohol bans. It also came with sample ordinances that local leaders could introduce.

“We wanted to remind local governments that they do have that authority to do more than the statewide floor,” said Gov. Roy Cooper (D) when the letter was announced last week.

Since then, county leaders say they’ve gotten frustrated with the suggestion that they take responsibility for closing the economies more than what has already been done statewide. At least three counties on the receiving end in the east, Onslow, Duplin and Craven, have said they’re not going to do so.

County health officials say it could help to flatten their curves.

“When we went through the shutdowns back in the spring, there were so many unknowns about COVID,” said Onslow County Health Director Kristen Richmond-Hoover. “Now, we’re in a very different place. I think that we can be very tailored with a lot of the actions that we take now, and make sure that any restrictions that we are putting on individuals and on the public are reasonable. Things that we know will work.”

It’s leaving county leaders furious at the move right before election day.

“I don’t want to accuse him of being political, but it is what it is,” said Bennett. “He wants us to be responsible for shutting down our economies again after he’s shut down our economy for six, eight months now.”

WITN News contacted Gov. Cooper’s office for comment, they referred to a D.H.H.S. spokesperson.

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