Back in March, when a COVID-19 outbreak spread toward the southeast United States, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper followed the lead of North Carolina counties and took aggressive actions to slow the virus in his state. He was among the first Southern governors to close schools and shut down non-essential businesses, and he continues to be among the most cautious to reopen his state.
The result: North Carolina has been less devastated by COVID-19 than many of our neighbors. Our positive test rate has consistently been among the best in the Southeast. Fewer people per capita have been hospitalized, and fewer have died.
Now, with another COVID-19 wave looking our way, Cooper and N.C. counties need to be aggressive once again. It might be North Carolina’s best hope of avoiding another lockdown.
Other states are at various stages of that realization. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has closed colleges, high schools, some workplaces and in-person dining for three weeks as new coronavirus cases have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown responded to an increase in cases with a 14-day “social freeze” that included closing restaurants and bars to in-person dining and limiting the number of people that can gather for faith-based organizations. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said state officials were ready to crack down on businesses that didn’t enforce mask mandates, and on Tuesday he announced a 10 p.m. curfew for 21 days.
Closer to home, COVID-19 spikes have been less severe as temperatures have yet to push people inside. But in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and ordered bars closed at midnight. In Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan tightened indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, local officials went further and ordered restaurants, fitness centers and stores to operate at 25 percent capacity.
In North Carolina, COVID-19 metrics are steadily moving in the wrong direction, with record numbers of cases that portend a spike in hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks ahead. The governor, who took no new action on restrictions Tuesday, should more assertively reach for the state’s “dimmer switch” and dial back on activities that are the drivers of COVID-19 spread.
One place to avoid new restrictions: schools. Data is showing that schools, especially elementary schools, have not been a source of community spread. The governor should resist for now a forced return to full-time online learning.
Republicans lawmakers will bark at tightened N.C. restrictions, and it’s true that reducing capacity at businesses could bring new financial struggles. But if lawmakers want to help bottom lines affected by COVID-19, they should call a special session and work with Cooper to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund target relief to businesses and employees squeezed by new orders.
We hope Republicans don’t do what they’ve done since March, which is attempt to score political points by pushing back against sensible restrictions and mask mandates. Such resistance encourages the kind of behavior that COVID-19 needs to thrive, and that would be especially tragic for North Carolina if the winter brings the kind of surge that health officials fear.
We know the public has tired of COVID-19, and that another lockdown could bring devastating hardship. That’s why especially now, it’s time for Republicans to work with the governor and address the coming crisis. COVID-19 vaccines may be arriving soon, but their full impact won’t be felt until at least the spring. Until then, North Carolina’s best chance to avoid a lockdown is to get ahead of the virus. The governor should do the difficult and right thing, again.
Today’s editorial is from The Raleigh News & Observer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.