(The Center Square) – Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Friday that would have reopened gyms and bars in North Carolina.
The measure, House Bill 594, is part of a tug-a-war between Cooper and the General Assembly over lifting COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.
Republicans believe Cooper has been slow in reopening certain businesses because of concerns over an upward trend in COVID-19 cases and the state's ability to respond if cases spike.
"Tying the hands of public health officials in times of pandemic is dangerous, especially when case counts and hospitalizations are rising," Cooper said Friday in a statement. "State and local officials must be able to take swift action during the COVID-19 emergency to prevent a surge of patients from overwhelming hospitals and endangering the lives of North Carolinians."
As of Friday, 871 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, and 9 percent of the tests performed were positive for COVID-19.
North Carolina is in its second phase of reopening. The phase was supposed to include the limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services and playgrounds. However, bars, gyms, fitness facilities, playgrounds have remained closed under Cooper's executive order.
Proponents of the bill said the governor is giving restaurants preferential treatment over bars.
"Why is it safe to have a drink outside at a restaurant, but it's dangerous to have a drink outside at a bar? Gov. Cooper needs to release the science behind these apparent contradictions," Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, said Friday in a statement.
North Carolina is one of four states that has not reopened gyms and fitness centers.
The General Assembly this week also passed a bill that would reopen bowling alleys, skating rinks amusement parks, arcades and reception halls, and allow limited outdoor seating at minor league stadiums.
Lawmakers also approved a bill that would block an executive order that prohibits parades or firework displays on the Fourth of July.
Cooper vetoed another measure June 3 that would have resumed outdoor serving at bars and loosened restrictions on restaurants.
As of Friday, about 45 percent of the 49,840 COVID-19 cases in North Carolina are among people between 25-49 years old. A large portion of the COVID-19 deaths – 71 percent – have been reported among people who live in congregate living settings, such as long-term care facilities.