Major, the life-size bronze bull photo statue that presides over a plaza near downtown Durham, North Carolina, hasn’t had much company in recent weeks.
With the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the state, all businesses from top to bottom of the main street remain closed, while others operate in limited capacity. Some storefronts have been closed after the recent Black Lives Matter protests, with the plywood covered in graffiti. “People cried before tear gas,” said one.
Outside of Pour Taproom on Thursday night, several groups sat sipping drinks at strategically spaced red metal tables. The pour-it-yourself tavern reopened last week, and since then has seen a solid, albeit unspectacular, stream of customers. Anjelika Vásquez, manager of the tavern, said many had felt “locked in the house.”
“It is such a strange period,” he said. “But people want to drink.”
Under North Carolina’s current set of rules, restaurants, breweries, retail stores, and salons can open to 50% of their capacity. Gyms and bars are closed, with leeway for pubs serving food. Meetings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.
The Taproom halved its staff and cut its hours, in addition to adding sanitizing stations and selling face masks. Although the movements have bought the business at some point, Vásquez said he is suspicious of the future.
“Everyone is getting impatient and small businesses are suffering,” he said. “But I have a feeling that we will have to close again.”
On Wednesday, a day after the state hit a new record in Covid-19 hospitalizations, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina would remain in the second phase of its three-phase reopening plan, a decision. which was quickly condemned as anti – business by many in the state ‘s Republican – dominated legislature.
Phase two was slated to end Friday, but Cooper, who also announced a mandate requiring people to wear masks in public despite fierce opposition in some quarters, said he was “concerned” about the direction the state.
“The numbers we see are a severe warning,” said the governor. “We are adding this requirement because we don’t want to go back.”
The announcement was met with fury by industry groups.
“The governor’s decision is to effectively sign a death order for 1,063 bars in North Carolina, while offering zero relief to small business owners or their employees,” said Zack Medford, president of the Carolina Bar and Pub Association. North (NCBATA). launching. “Asking private bar owners to lose everything they have worked for while their competitors can prosper is outrageous.
On June 4, NCBATA filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of more than 185 bars, alleging that Cooper’s office violated companies’ constitutional rights by “irrationally dealing [bars] different from restaurants, hotels, wineries, distilleries, taverns, breweries, breweries, private clubs and food establishments. “
Groups representing churches and gyms have also filed similar lawsuits.
But for the past few weeks, the state has failed to meet its self-imposed benchmarks for reopening. In addition to a steady increase in hospitalizations, which culminated in the record of 915 on Tuesday, North Carolina saw 1,721 new cases on Wednesday, its second highest daily total since the pandemic began.
“We used to be rock solid in the mid-500s of the total number of hospitalizations. We are now in the 900s and that trend continues to rise, ”said Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services this week.
About 9% of the tests carried out show positive results, a number that has not decreased either. One of the only metrics that has been reduced has been testing, and the state Department of Health and Human Services cites a new shortage of test reagents.
The Republican-controlled state general assembly has generally fought Cooper’s reluctance to reopen, passing a handful of bills that would relax restrictions on bars, gyms, bowling alleys and amusement parks. Cooper vetoed at least two of these bills.
Many of North Carolina’s early critical spots were concentrated near its population centers, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham. But in recent weeks, the spread has spread to less populated areas and heavily impacted Hispanic, black, and indigenous communities, particularly those working in food processing facilities and on farms.
The movement of the virus from urban to rural areas was predictable, said Lori Carter-Edwards, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Global Public Health, and is underscoring the conflicting relationship between the economy and public health. throughout the state.
Without adequate safety nets, that is, in areas with fewer resources, governments and businesses will be continually forced to choose between financial stability and public health, he said.
“Both decisions are difficult, but if we cannot make the health decision when science tells us what it tells us, we will be dealing with this much longer and we will be the nation that did not do what it could have done.” Carter-Edwards said. “And that will be a parody.”
As it stands, congregated housing facilities, daycare centers, and schools are the only facilities required by the state to report outbreaks, which it defines as two or more cases. For all other companies, local health departments and, by extension, the state department of health and human services (DHHS), rely on companies offering their own data or tracking groups through case interviews.
“It is in the best public health interest for those private companies to self-identify and work with NCDHHS so that we can help protect employees and communities by providing technical assistance on mitigation strategies, educating employees about the virus and the steps they can take, and provide evidence for those who have been exposed, as well as others in their homes, “wrote a DHHS spokesperson.
North Carolina will re-evaluate its reopening strategy when the current order expires July 17, and Carter-Edwards said the next three weeks represent a critical window for the state to coordinate a response to its increasing numbers.
“People need to understand that war is not against an individual,” he said. “Until we learn to work together, let’s be bipartisan and treat this as collective public health [issue], we will not be able to reach our plateau. We will miss the brand, we will have more deaths and we will have more cases. “