by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor, John Locke Foundation
What is Gov. Cooper going to announce today? Yesterday the governor’s office gave sent out a terse email from spokeswoman Dory MacMillan, saying only: “The Governor expects to share information about the next phase of easing restrictions tomorrow, which would take effect later this week.”
A worrisome bit: The focus of media and discussion on Cooper’s announcement is about what restrictions he might lift. This pattern has frequently been prelude to Cooper introducing greater restrictions or worse crackdowns on people’s liberty. As unfree as we are, there are plenty of worse things an unchecked autocrat can inflict on us.
But there is a sense that it could be different this time:
The talk still reminds me of Parsons and the chocolate rations from Nineteen Eighty-Four:
Let’s be very clear about this. Cooper’s original reopening date for the state was April 29. Back then the standard to meet was to “flatten the curve.” Cooper was clear in recognizing that the state had, in fact, flattened the curve. Then he moved the goalposts.
Next, Cooper instituted his “Three-Phase” plan for reopening. Under his schedule, full reopening wouldn’t happen until sometime in July, it was thought. In fact, however, Cooper hasn’t even fully allowed “Phase 2” yet.
Among other businesses, Cooper left out bars, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, theaters, music venues, and playgrounds.
Over a month after stopping the clock on Phase 2, Cooper implemented his face mask mandate and set a new standard to meet: “stabilize our trends.” Cooper has been clear in recognizing that the state has, in fact, stabilized our trends (including yesterday). But he moved the goalposts again.
The truth is, Cooper has North Carolinians struggling under more restrictions now than we were on May 20, which was when he was originally expected to announce the move to full Phase 2. Media have allowed themselves to be used by the Cooper administration for hopeful-sounding propaganda as people’s lives and livelihoods are callously destroyed:
It’s becoming increasingly evident that there are other potential excess deaths events taking place beyond deaths owing COVID-19. They would be deaths resulting from the isolation, economic stresses, and government restrictions on businesses and individuals in response to COVID-19.
Media should not report on a potential move to Phase 3 as if would be the first sign of spring. Nothing about this is natural. And Cooper, who refuses to be bound by North Carolina emergency management law, secure in the expectation that a liberal state Supreme Court majority would let a fellow ideologue get away with it, shouldn’t act as if he is somehow obligated to phased reopening.
This bears repeating:
There’s no reason to treat the “phases” for reopening as if they are written in stone. The phases are Cooper’s formulation only; there’s nothing that forces moving into Phase 3 before lifting all executive orders and allowing people to rebuild the economy in all the various unseen and unimaginable ways that they would do it — ways that no one, not the wisest economist, certainly not some witless central planner, could ever direct, dictate, anticipate, or comprehend.
The point is, at any time Cooper could lift his executive orders. He could do so today.
Simple: Reopen the state fully and let people breathe freely.
The state has jumped through every hoop Cooper, right or wrong, has imposed. Cooper has acknowledged as much when making that acknowledgment is allowed by a strangely incurious media not to mean reopening as promised.
It’s way past time to reopen the state fully and trust people to balance their own safety risks as they perceive them with their needs to earn a living for their families.
The mask mandate absolutely has to go. It was forced on North Carolinians based on emerging academic studies with sensational-sounding abstracts but questionable applicability to NC. Subsequent weeks proved that forcing mask-wearing was ineffective, especially considered according to the results expected by the research and promised by the Cooper administration.
Finally, a growing body of research finds no scientific basis for Cooper’s rationale behind forcing healthy people to wear masks. For healthy people voluntarily donning masks, the World Health Organization lists potential benefits and risks. The potential risks are all to the wearer’s health, whereas the potential benefits are mostly to other’s feelings.
A “Phase 3” lifting of some restrictions is possible, of course, but it seems unlikely. Restoring some pre-March freedom to people would no doubt result in additional pressure on Cooper to reopen the state fully within a matter of weeks, however. And when would that have to occur? Late September? October? Sometime in November?
Don’t forget, however, that the Cooper administration is looking at “mid-2021” as when things get back to “relative normalcy,” as Dept. of Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen recently admitted. Full Phase 3 would probably strike the administration as “too early,” from their current vantage point of two months past when it was originally promised.
Full Phase 2, then? Carolina Journal is doubtful. Kari Travis writes:
Though Gov. Roy Cooper will ease some coronavirus restrictions in September, bars and private clubs may remain shuttered, Carolina Journal has learned.
If that happens, the industry — already foundering — will go bankrupt, says Zack Medford, leader of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association. …
Has NCBATA gotten any kind of communication from the governor, any clue about whether bars are included in the governor’s plan to ease restrictions? CJ asked.
“No,” Medford laughed, hollow, defeated. “This governor has never been much of a communicator, far as I can tell.” …
If Cooper is planning to reopen bars, he hasn’t told anyone in the industry, Scott Maitland, owner of Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery in Chapel Hill, told CJ.
The Greensboro News & Record took note of the fact that,
Cooper extended from Monday to Oct. 2 a curfew on restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries from selling alcoholic drinks from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. This order does not apply to grocery stores, convenience stores or other entities permitted to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.
WECT wrote that, “There’s no word on if entertainment facilities and bars will be permitted to reopen.”
WTVD reported that, “It is not known what specific restrictions will be discussed Tuesday but North Carolina bars are still waiting for the chance to open their doors.”
WRAL reported, “Sources have told WRAL News that Cooper is likely to allow exercise facilities, including gyms, yoga and dance studios and outdoor playgrounds, to reopen under strict social distancing and reduced capacity guidelines.”
That doesn’t sound like even going to the full Phase 2 expected back in May. That wouldn’t be “reopening early.” It would be another betrayal.
Back in June, I produced Cooper’s decision matrix for following through on his threat to force face masks on people while deciding whether to lift any restrictions against businesses. Cooper chose the one option that undermined his own rationale for ordering masks, the option I called “Submit and Get Nothing”:
Obviously, no matter how media might treat it, if Cooper can’t bring himself to get NC to full Phase 2, it would basically keep the state under “Submit and Get Nothing.” Even moving to Phase 3, however, wouldn’t imbue face masks with any more scientific basis than before.
As always, but even more so now while some businesses haven’t yet failed, the proper option for North Carolina is “Most Freedom.” As I stated in my review of the administration’s mask literature:
Cooper and his health secretary, Cohen, are well situated to use their respective offices to recommend, to persuade, even to urge people to adopt practices such as wearing face coverings that they believe is healthy and proper. Doing so would reciprocate the respect and trust afforded them by their fellow North Carolinians, their co-equals in the eyes of God and our state constitution.