Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered North Carolina residents statewide to stay at home starting at 5 p.m. Monday.
North Carolina’s 10 million residents will join about half of the United States who are or soon will be under stay-at-home orders from their governors in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some communities in North Carolina had already ordered their residents to stay at home. But for much of the state, this will change the ways everyone works, learns, shops, commutes and socializes even more than limitations already in place.
Cooper called it “truly a matter of life or death.”
In North Carolina, there are more than 800 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in two-thirds of the state’s counties. Four people have died.
No one is immune and a vaccination is “a ways off,” Cooper said during a Friday afternoon news conference.
“As expected, our numbers continue to increase rapidly. This is a highly contagious virus,” he said.
Cooper said the sounds of our lives, like the halftime buzzer and school bell, are gone.
“We do not have the luxury of time,” NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
“Our best weapon is social distancing. What we do today can save lives in the weeks and months to come,” Cohen said.
Cooper said the order doesn’t go into effect until 5 p.m. Monday because he wants to give people time to get ready, and for businesses that are required to close to do so.
The stay-at-home order will last 30 days and end on April 29.
It bans gatherings of 10 or more people, Cooper said.
Those who go outside must maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing except around members of their family or household. Permitted reasons for leaving home include health and safety; outdoor activities; certain types of work; and getting necessary supplies and services for food, groceries, household supplies, items needed to work from home and for automobiles.
Essential jobs that are exempted from the stay at home order include health care, public health, infrastructure, government operations, human services, food and beverage production, agriculture, media, financial and insurance institutions, and businesses that meet social distancing requirements.
There are several exemptions for retail businesses deemed essential including restaurants and grocery stores, laundromats, bookstores that sell educational materials, hardware stores, lawn and garden retailers and gas stations and beer, wine and liquor retailers.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said the order was a difficult, but correct decision.
“We’re all in this together, and in order to protect the health of North Carolinians and get through this crisis as quickly as possible, we must all do our part to contain community spread over the next several weeks,” Tillis said in a statement.
Tillis, a Republican, said he’s glad the order by Cooper, a Democrat, “allows essential industries to continue their important work while also providing flexibility to NC businesses that are able to practice social distancing and maintain a safe and healthy work environment to protect their employees and the general public.”
Stay-at-home orders by the city of Durham, Wake County and Mecklenburg County already restrict movement by the public except for essential jobs and tasks such as those related to health and food.
Cooper said Friday that though the statewide order and local orders are similar, if a city or county’s order is more restrictive, the more restrictive part applies.
While other states have put these measures in place statewide, North Carolina had previously stopped short of joining them with a “stay at home” order for its 10 million people.
Cooper had closed some non-essential businesses, urged people who are high-risk to stay home and banned mass gatherings of more than 50 people.
But earlier this week, the N.C Healthcare Association, which represents all 130 hospitals in the state, on Monday asked Cooper to issue the order, saying it would help head off a surge in new cases. And on Wednesday, the NC Medical Society, representing 10,000 doctors and physician’s assistants, called for stronger measures as well.
Hospitals are worried about having enough space, supplies and employees to handle a major outbreak here. Steve Lawler, the president of the Healthcare Association, wrote in the letter to Cooper that “it will take at least two weeks after a shelter in place order is issued before we see a change in the trajectory of cases.”
Cooper said his office has given law enforcement agencies the order to review.
“We hope and believe that people will voluntarily abide by this order because of the seriousness of it, and because it’s so easily transferred from one person to the other,” Cooper said.
He said that law enforcement will remind people to comply with the order, but if people continue to “flagrantly” violate the order, police and district attorneys have the discretion under the law to charge and prosecute them. He said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“Please everyone, heed this order,” Cooper said. “Let’s all of us do our part here in North Carolina.”