Phase 1.5? Governor Roy Reluctant to Restore Freedoms, Confusing Order Draws Immediate Criticism

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper gives an update on the state's response to COVID-19 during an afternoon news conference at the State of North Carolina's Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

RALEIGH – Well, Governor Roy Cooper may have announced that North Carolina would move into Phase 2 of his tentative reopening plan, but the actual details look more like the state will be stuck in Phase 1.5 for five weeks.

Restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity and under a pile of social distancing and sanitizing rules, but bars will not be allowed to open. Salons will again be allowed to serve customers at 50 percent capacity, but gyms are not allowed to open. Your kid can now attend day care or even go off to summer camp, but cannot go to school.

Gatherings are still limited to 10 people, unless you’re in a Wal-Mart, or a reopened restaurant, or an education facility, or a church, or a house with a big family for that matter.

No bowling, movie theaters, or playgrounds will be allowed to open; no fairs, parades, or festivals allowed, either. Outdoor activities are limited to 25 people. That means no more than 25 people at any gatherings at a beach, or a park, or a trail. Parties are regarded wholly unacceptable, worthy of maximum public scorn and shaming, especially if it is a fun party. You can have fun, but not with more than 10 people.

Many more July 4th Independence Day parades — commemorating our nation’s struggle for independence against an overly restrictive government and the founding of a limited-government Republic predicated on the inalienable rights of individuals being and designed to limit the government’s collective power — will be canceled as a result of the unilaterally issued edict from the governor.

Cooper described the tentative half-move to Phase 2 as “modest.” Others might call it confusing, or nonsensical.

The order states that, “Worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from all the requirements of this Executive Order and Executive Order Nos. 121 and 138, notwithstanding any other provision of this Executive Order or of Executive Order Nos. 121 and 138.

What is a parade celebrating Independence Day if not a First Amendment Activity? Actually, what is any free assembly of peaceful people if not a First Amendment Activity? Religious freedom is singled out in the Constitution for a reason, but it is a fundamental example of the freedom to assemble and speak protected under the First Amendment, not a limiting factor for protections. There are some limits, constitutionally, but generally speaking, assembling and speaking in numbers for any reason all qualifies as ‘First Amendment Activities.’

If First Amendment Activities are exempt, nearly everything would be exempt, right? That’d be nice — or, you know, constitutional — alas this is just more lip service from a governor that then proceeds to list all the activities protected under the First Amendment you will not be allowed to do.

Face coverings in public were strongly encouraged at the press conference Wednesday. Though there are no face covering mandates in the order, there was a healthy dose of sanctimony and shaming.

Governor Cooper said, “A face covering signifies strength and compassion for others. Wearing one shows that you care about other people’s health.”

So, if you do not wear one, does it signify weakness and callousness for others? Does it show you want people to die? This officially jump starts the public pressure campaign to shame people who do not wear a face mask.

Republican lawmakers listened to the announcement, read the new guidelines, and quickly determined that Governor Cooper had succeeded, against the odds, to make an even MORE confusing and inconsistent order. Senate Leader Phil Berger noted the utterly arbitrary nature of the restrictions, and the costs of dragging them out.

“I’m glad the Governor has responded to the calls of senators, small business owners, and unemployed workers to let them get back to work. When I asked Gov. Cooper to reopen restaurants and personal care services last week, the Governor said it wasn’t safe to do so.

“But according to data for yesterday, when the Governor began notifying people of his decision, North Carolina had more cases, more hospitalizations, and fewer tests performed than when I issued my call last week. It seems strange that it was unsafe to reopen last week, but it’s safe to reopen now with worse numbers. This gets back to the central question of what strategy is driving the Governor’s actions. What goal does he think is achievable?”

The ‘Stay Closed’ crowd can no longer lean on the ‘Flatten the Curve’ talking points, because there was never a surge. In fact, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NCDHHS, expressed that it is harder for our state to meet some decrease goals because we never had a spike. “You can’t have a decrease if there was never a spike,” Cohen said.

Hospitals were never even close to being overloaded. Contrarily, there is dearth of patients.

Apparently the goal posts have moved to limiting people’s activities in order to keeping people from ever getting sick. Which is entirely impracticable and inconsistent with the original push for flattening the curve. The only logical conclusion is that the officials in Cooper’s administration hope to suppress people long enough for there to be a vaccine, which may never happen.

Aside from all the nonsensical details in this order, Berger’s last question is pivotal. What is the goal? To flatten the curve (done!)? Or to protect people from ever getting sick? Cooper’s answer means the difference between prudent governance and abusive overreach.


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