RALEIGH – Governor Roy Cooper and State Health Czar Mandy Cohen gave held a (virtual) press conference Tuesday to provide updates on COVID-19 trends in North Carolina. Cases are rising, and, being the hammers that they are, the governor and health secretary are looking to nail them down with further restrictions on the citizenry.
No; Cooper is not decreeing North Carolina go into a full lockdown. Yet.
Instead, the pair introduced a new ‘COVID-19 County Alert System’ that will color code the counties based on their trends in case growth, test positivity rate, and/or hospitalization rates. The ‘worst’ counties will be red, and then orange, with the remainder being yellow.
The governor already decreed last week that indoor gatherings of more than 10 people would be prohibited. The statewide mask mandate remains in place, of course, as well. And a particular emphasis has been placed on encouraging people to cancel or modify their Thanksgiving plans.
Have Thanksgiving outside, they say.
With apparent consideration for how much blow back the mandated lockdowns generated, Cooper has stopped short of issuing more statewide restrictions or closures. However, that hasn’t stopped the administration from pressuring local officials to adopt lockdown policies at the county level.
Here again, the color coded alert system is a way to do just that. For instance, for counties marked red/orange the Cooper administration is recommending the following:
They want local officials of red/orange counties to enforce gathering limits and mask mandates more aggressively. That means forcing people to wear masks in public, and forcing people to respect the 10 person limit at gatherings.
How would they enforce those things? By enacting civil penalties for those that don’t toe the line, of course. While keeping just enough distance from his administration, Cooper wants locals to fine you if you do not comply with his existing orders.
While it’s hard to imagine local officials following up ordinances with the active fining of residents — think, police breaking up your 11 person Thanksgiving dinner and issuing the home owner a citation — it was only earlier this year that local officials were literally arresting surfers for being in the ocean, in defiance of ‘Stay-at-Home’ orders; or parents for letting kids play on their playgrounds; or shop owners for daring to open their shops.
It’s necessary to refresh our memory on how quickly the hive mentality can take over.
After all, Cooper said on Tuesday that, “[…] right now these are strong recommendations, but [that could change].” This is what the governor has said every time before coming back a week later to issue unilateral edicts to force people to follow those strong recommendations, or face a misdemeanor.
The pattern has been clear, as each wave of Pandemic Panic rushes in. Hopefully that pattern is broken this time around, but it could just be morphed into twisting the arms of select counties to introduce the element of force on Cooper’s behalf.
To be sure, there is a bright side: Other states are diving head first back into lockdown conditions. California, Michigan, Washington — all are racing back toward the draconian conditions of March and April. Cooper, to his credit, has not dragged North Carolina to join them.
So, with Thanksgiving little more than a week away, and Christmas around the corner, will select counties take Cooper’s advice in adopting stricter ordinances and charging civil penalties to those that ignore Cooper’s commands?
In 2020, you can never say never.