CHARLOTTE – Mecklenburg County is now following Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order.
The county, city and towns had previously agreed that Mecklenburg’s stay-at-home order would be extended if the governor extended his order, which he did through May 8. But towns have been growing increasingly concerned about businesses.
County Manager Dena Diorio told Mecklenburg commissioners April 28 that the county, city and towns agreed to rescind its stay-at-home order to align with the governor’s order based on COVID-19 data that included cases and hospital capacity.
The governor’s order gives increased flexibility to businesses such as car dealerships, craft and hobby shops, dog groomers, funeral homes, housekeepers, mattress stores, real estate agents and vape shops – just to name a few.
Mecklenburg reported 1,491 cases of COVID-19, including 43 deaths, through April 27. More than half of the cases were released from isolation. Matthews Fire Chief Rob Kinniburgh told town leaders that 35 residences were in isolation.
Matthews commissioners decided April 27 to send a letter to the county in support of Cooper’s stay-at-home order.
Mayor John Higdon said he received a lot of calls and emails from small businesses on the verge of closing and never opening again. Meanwhile, a lot of big-box stores continue operating and selling the same items as smaller retailers.
He said his intent was not to liberate North Carolina or open all businesses but to follow the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“I think it’s time now that we allow some of our businesses that can operate safely to operate,” Higdon said.
Higdon and commissioners Dave Bland, John Urban and Jeff Miller supported the idea of sending the letter. Commissioners Renee Garner, Ken McCool and Larry Whitley opposed it.
Garner said during the meeting that Matthews doesn’t have the same level of health data the county has and the town may have to ramp up enforcement of social distancing if more retailers resume business operations.
She later said on social media that following the governor’s order was a solid compromise.
“As we loosen restrictions and open up the economy here, I think it’s imperative that we’re moving expeditiously around the testing piece because that seems to be the linchpin that could blow everything up,” Mecklenburg Commissioner Mark Jerrell said. “Frankly, I think it really needs to move beyond the conversation stage and needs to be at the action stage.”
Mecklenburg Commissioner Trevor Fuller took a harsher tone, saying actions, such as rescinding the original agreement, undermine the county’s public health authority.
“People who have been pushing this effort to undermine our actions to respond to this COVID-19, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, who are pushing to reopen in this reckless and political way,” Fuller said.
He doesn’t believe the stay-at-home order should be subject to a consensus and the county ought to address this with state lawmakers.
Other commissioners agreed with him, including at-large member Ella Scarborough, who said everyone should have stuck with their guns. Vilma Leake took issue with county commissioners having no input in the process.
Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, who specifically represents Matthews and Mint Hill, said she was pleased the county, city and towns are on the same order, but she wasn’t pleased with the process.
At-Large Commissioner Pat Cotham said the state makes the rules in this case.
“I am glad that the towns stuck with us as long as they did,” Cotham said. “Some of them I don’t think were as interested in staying as long but they did. I am grateful for them.”
Cotham thinks there was a lot of confusion among residents about the two stay-at-home orders. She believes the governor’s order is “more than adequate.”
Fuller later said he didn’t want to put the county at odds with its municipalities, but he was concerned about politics entering the discussion.
More on state actions
Gov. Roy Cooper announced a three-phased approach to reopening North Carolina that begins with Phase 1 on May 8 if certain data parameters are met. The parameters include testing, a reduction in hospital patients and a continued flattening of the curve of new patients. Public schools will continue remote learning through the end of the 2019-20 school year.