Gov. Roy Cooper orders NC bars and restaurants closed, new help for unemployed

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Drew Jackson, Lucille Sherman, Steve Wiseman
·5 min read
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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday he plans to order restaurants and bars closed except for takeout and delivery orders.

The move aims to lessen the spread of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — by limiting interactions between large groups of people. A number of other states have issued similar orders, including New York, Ohio and Florida.

Cooper’s executive order was to take effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday and also includes an expansion of unemployment benefits.

Many restaurants in the Triangle were already making the decision to suspend operations this week, some closing their dining rooms and offering takeout only, others shuttering altogether.

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Andi Savary, left, and her best friend, Bryan David Blythe, have lunch at The Raleigh Times in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered bars and restaurants to close at 5 p.m. Tuesday, except for take-out and delivery. The Raleigh Times will offer curbside pickup and delivery via DoorDash.
Andi Savary, left, and her best friend, Bryan David Blythe, have lunch at The Raleigh Times in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered bars and restaurants to close at 5 p.m. Tuesday, except for take-out and delivery. The Raleigh Times will offer curbside pickup and delivery via DoorDash.

A government order is actually what some restaurant owners say they needed.

“We weren’t sure if a voluntary order would be enough (to be eligible for relief,)” said Elizabeth Turnbull, who co-owns the Durham restaurant COPA with her husband Roberto Matos. “We really feel it’s important it becomes a mandate.”

Turnbull hopes the order will mean restaurants and bars would qualify for loss-of revenue insurance and other small business assistance.

On Tuesday around noon, Coleen Speaks of the Raleigh bar and restaurant Hummingbird sold her first to-go order. It was a burger.

The restaurant industry, with its famously thin margins and its identity as the community gathering spots, depends on people walking through the doors and staying awhile, making it vulnerable to this kind of crisis, Speaks said.

“It’s nearly impossible on a good day,” Speaks said. “This is hitting us hardest and first, but there’s so much in knowing we’re all in this together.”

Hummingbird is a small all-day spot in the Dock 1053 development, serving everything from breakfast sticky buns to nightcaps. This week it laid off 26 workers, about the same number as it seats in the bar and dining room, planning to make do in the interim with four salaried employees, Speaks said. Takeout keeps restaurants from closing totally, and it gives regulars and fans a way to support their favorites, but Speaks said it won’t be the long-term solution restaurants need.

“This is a Band-Aid,” she said. “The people of this world need to support the industry; its needs are unprecedented. I’m hoping (legislators) do the right thing.”

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Third coronavirus-related order

More than 40 cases of coronavirus were reported at the time the order was announced Tuesday.

But Cooper suggested the state believes the virus could be more widespread than the numbers currently show.

“We know there will be many more (cases) to come. The good news is that we have no deaths to report and that all of the cases can be traced to travel outside of the state or contact with a known positive person.

“However we know that this will change. It is likely we already have community spread, which is yet to show up in the testing, and we know that more people will get sick and that lives are in danger.

“Therefore, reasonable but strong actions are needed now to help suppress the spread of this virus and to save lives.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that more than 1,100 tests have been completed in the state and that many more are awaiting results.

“What we are experiencing is unprecedented as are the actions we are taking,” Cohen said Tuesday.

Even as the virus is though to be more widespread, Cohen said Tuesday that most people will not require medical care.

The executive order is the third Cooper has issued in the last week in response to COVID-19. Cooper also declared a state of emergency March 10, a move that made the state eligible for federal funding. At that time, there were only seven cases of the virus in the state.

On Saturday, when an estimated two dozen cases were being reported, Cooper prohibited mass gatherings of more than 100 people — a shift in his stance just two days earlier, when he strongly urged such gatherings be canceled, postponed or modified. Saturday’s order also called for the closure of K-12 schools across the state, just hours after Wake and Johnston counties made the decision to close school as well.

“On Saturday I ordered restrictions on large gatherings,” Cooper said Tuesday. “There was guidance to restaurants and bars to keep more people separated. I commend those who took this guidance seriously. Unfortunately some have not. So today we are ordering them to close.”

Unemployment restrictions eased

During Tuesday’s press conference, Cooper announced changes to the state’s unemployment-benefits system, aimed at supporting the mass of workers affected by closing businesses or slowing industries.

Among the unemployment changes, there is no longer a one-week waiting period to apply for assistance, nor do workers need to demonstrate they’re actively looking for a new job. Beyond those out of work, assistance is also available for workers who have lost hours.

Applications can be submitted online or over the phone and employers are not required to pay for benefits for those seeking unemployment.