John Locke Update / Research Brief

By Gov. Cooper’s own standards, NC should be open

posted on in COVID-19 Series, Economic Growth & Development, Economics, Rights & Regulation
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We are expected to be grateful that Our Governor has magnanimously allowed only elementary schools to open soon, sort of. The fact of the matter is, Gov. Roy Cooper has shifted the goalposts on beleaguered North Carolinians yet again.

According to the very standards the governor set, North Carolina should be open and back to business. Full stop.

But once again we’re not, despite satisfying another gubernatorial requirement for reopening. This is “We’ve flattened the curve” without reopening all over again. This is “Stabilizing trends are good” without even moving to the full Phase 2 all over again.

Remember Cooper’s supposed “metrics” for reopening? He and state health bureaucrat Mandy Cohen refer to them often, as she addresses adults like an after-school muppet drawing yellow lines and carrying on about The Letter W.

Here is a slide from Cooper’s June 24 announcement when he (once again) did not allow full Phase 2 but instead, to give an impression of doing something, forced people to start wearing face masks:

Here is that slide from his Sept. 1 announcement when his great mercy allowed some businesses that were closed to reopen partially while still keeping many others closed; i.e., when he still did not allow a move even into full Phase 2:

‘Where we are today’

Here is where we are now in the governor’s own metrics for reopening.

Trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases

This chart is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, as of Sept. 20:

That’s a solid, prolonged and increasingly downward trend.

Trajectory of cases

This chart uses data from the state Department of Health and Human Services’ daily COVID-19 reporting, as do the charts that follow.

The prolonged downward trend is unmistakeable.

Trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests

This one also shows a prolonged, solid downward decline for months. But it shows more than that. Cohen and Cooper have also made a big deal out of needing to see the tests returning positive to be at or below 5%. As you can see, the 7-day rolling average (not a single day’s blip, but the cumulative average over seven days) has fallen below 5%.

It’s been below 5% for well over a week — since September 10. As of this morning, the 7-day rolling average sits at 4.6%. That’s the lowest rate it’s been since before April.

The last time it was this low was on March 27. DHHS doesn’t report any test results before March 16. Also, back then relatively few tests were being done. Only 14,179 tests were reported for the full week ending March 27 (4.4% were positive). DHHS reported nearly two and a half times that many tests (33,798) on Sept. 20 alone. For the week ending Sept. 20, 188,710 tests were reported.

Trajectory of hospitalizations

Again, the prolonged downward trend is unmistakeable.

The peak 7-day rolling average of hospitalizations occurred on July 31 at 1,177.6. The single-day peak was 1,236 on July 29.

As a reminder: hospitalizations have been far, far below even the “best-case scenario” given to state lawmakers by the NC Medical Society back in March (click the image for the full size):

Normally, this is when I’d ask if we’re here, why are businesses having to sue to open back up? But I know they can’t even do that any more. It’s too expensive, and the remaining closed and half-closed businesses are just barely holding on.

Why set the standards if you don’t intend to honor them?

Reopening predicated on flattening the curve, stabilizing the trends, or seeing the metrics trending down — nobody forced the governor to set those standards, and he is not bound by them. Nobody can force Cooper to uphold his own standards. But what a horrible way to rule.

Not “govern,” rule. I can’t call it governing. Not after what Cooper’s done.

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As Director of Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jon gets into the weeds in all kinds of policy areas, including electricity, occupational licensing, hydraulic… ...

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