(The Center Square) – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended his COVID-19-related emergency orders to July 30 on Friday despite calls to end the state's emergency declaration.
Cooper declared a public health state of emergency in March 2020, putting restrictions in place intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Cooper gradually has reduced restrictions as North Carolina's COVID-19 trends have decreased amid a growing number of vaccinations.
Some Republican members of the North Carolina Legislature looking to lessen the governor's power to close businesses during an emergency have called on Cooper to end the emergency declaration as neighboring states do the same.
Cooper said Friday his executive orders, tied to the declaration, increase access to supplies and equipment and allows the state to draw down federal funds needed to respond to the pandemic.
"We are seeing tremendous improvement with fewer cases, hospitalizations, deaths and safety restrictions, but this is no time to hang up a 'Mission Accomplished' banner in our fight against the pandemic," Cooper said Friday in a statement. "We are laser-focused on getting more shots in arms, boosting our economy and protecting unvaccinated people from the virus, and this executive order is essential for those efforts."
Cooper's order issued Friday makes it mandatory for North Carolinians to wear masks in schools, prisons, health care and child care facilities and while using public transportation. Cooper's office said the requirement is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation.
House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, and House Deputy Majority Whip Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, sent Cooper a letter Tuesday, asking him to provide specific details on what "metrics and data" are required to end the state of emergency.
Kidwell and Bell are co-sponsors of a bill requiring the governor to seek the concurrence of a state panel when issuing a statewide declaration of emergency for 67 or more North Carolina counties for more than 30 days.
Cooper said the emergency declaration also has continued to allow the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to increase the number of people authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccinations and tests and the flexibility to move around patients. It also has allowed Cooper to activate the North Carolina National Guard to assist with the health crisis.
The Carolina Journal reported that former 1st Congressional District candidate Michele Nix and Freedom Matters NC filed a lawsuit last month to eliminate Cooper's ability to issue COVID-19 executive orders. Nix and Freedom Matters NC argue Cooper lost his authority to issue the orders because no state of emergency currently exists.
Governors in other states, including New Jersey, Arkansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts, have ended or announced plans to end their COVID-19 emergency declarations.