Gov. Cooper signs order prohibiting utilities companies from shutting off services

N.C. governor signs new executive order

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order Tuesday to prohibit utilities companies from shutting off services to people who are unable to pay.

The order states that electric, gas, water and wastewater services cannot be shut off for the next 60 days. It also encourages banks not to charge customers overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties.

Gov. Cooper said during a press conference that telecommunications companies that provide phone, cable and internet services are “strongly urged to follow these same rules.”

WATCH LIVE: Gov. Roy Cooper addresses public as COVID-19 cases near 1,500 in NC

WATCH LIVE | NC CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Gov. Roy Cooper and NC leaders address public as #COVID19 cases near 1,500 in North Carolina. NCDHHS is reporting 8 coronavirus-related deaths across the state » https://bit.ly/34aW4Dv

Posted by WBTV News on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Cooper added that many companies have already committed to follow these guidelines even before the order was signed. He said there were “too many companies to name, but I commend them all for doing the right thing.”

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said the “insidious virus” has forced N.C. businesses to lay off 300,000 people over the last two weeks.

“Just think about that number - it is massive,” Stein said. “It is orders of a magnitude greater than any two-week period during the Great Recession.”

Stein said the executive order will help those families who are in financial trouble or out of work due to the virus.

This past Sunday, more than 20,000 people filed for unemployment.

New order protects families from having utilities cut off

North Carolina reported another 191 cases of coronavirus Tuesday morning, bringing the state’s total to 1,498 with 8 deaths, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

Health officials now say the median age for those who tested positive in N.C. is 46.

On Monday, Gov. Cooper’s ‘stay at home’ order went into effect. During Tuesday’s press conference, he stressed the importance of following the guidelines the order lays out.

“I know it’s hard, but prevention is still the single most important thing you can do right now,” Cooper said. “If we don’t slow the infection, our medical system will be stretched beyond its capacity.”

During Monday’s press conference, Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health and Human Services, echoed that statement.

“We do not have vaccines or a treatment. Social distancing is the only tool we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 so fewer people get sick at the same time and so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals,” said Cohen.

“I can’t stress it enough - your actions matter. Staying at home matters. Staying home will save lives,” Cohen continued. “I know this is really, really hard. Most of us have never lived through a time where we’ve had to take this kind of collective action to change our way of life in a matter of a couple days. In many ways this is like a war, right here at home, and our enemy is this virus.”

Cohen said if you’re leaving your house, it should be limited to getting groceries, picking up medication or going for a walk outside. If you’re working at an essential business, Cohen urged, you still need to follow social distancing guidelines.

At least eight people have died from the virus. Ninety-six N.C. counties are now under a state of emergency.

North Carolina is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have widespread transmission, meaning some people who have tested positive don’t know how they were infected.

“Because no one is immune and there’s no vaccination the best tool we have to slow the spread is keeping our physical distance and staying home,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

That’s why, on Friday, the governor issued the statewide stay-at-home order. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 30.

“It truly is a matter of life and death,” Cooper said. “Even with the uncertainty of these times and the new pace of our lifestyles, we know that the good parts of our lives as North Carolinians will return. We fight this disease now so that we are better able to defeat it in the future.”

Cooper announced that more than 219,000 people have filed unemployment claims since March 16, as of Friday afternoon. The first unemployment benefits will be paid early next week.

Health officials say individuals and families can call 2-1-1 for assistance from the operation center.

During a Thursday press conference, health officials said there were currently 50 people who were hospitalized in the state. That number rose to 137 by Monday morning, according to NCDHHS’s website.

Health officials said the state had received reports of 20,864 tests completed from sites that do report negative tests, with 8,000 test still pending. Not all testing sites report their negative results.

Health officials said North Carolina currently has 15,398 in-patient beds in the state, and 6,235 of those are currently empty. There is also 3,223 intensive care beds in the state, and about 745 of those are empty.

Those numbers do not include extra, incoming beds that have been requested, officials added.

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the virus as a “cruel and contagious sickness,” after North Carolina announced its first coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday.

The first person, from Cabarrus County and in their late seventies, died on March 24 from complications associated with the virus. The patient had several underlying medical conditions.

The second death was a Harnett County patient in their late thirties who had an underlying medical condition, NCDHHS said on March 26.

The third death was a patient from Johnston County. The patient, who was in their mid-sixties and had underlying medical conditions, also died on March 26.

On Friday, in what appears to be the state’s fourth virus-related death, Rowan County health officials confirmed that a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. Officials say the patient was in the high risk category due to age and underlying medical conditions.

Another person who was traveling through North Carolina also died from COVID-19 complications. Since the patient, identified as 66-year-old Landon Spradlin, was from Virginia, his death is not counted in N.C.'s total.

“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously,” Cooper said.

“We’ve gotta do everything we can do to help that family that’s wondering where the next paycheck is going to come [from],” Cooper said, noting that families who were on the edge have “fallen off the cliff.”

It’s unclear whether NCDHHS’ latest numbers reflect new cases out of Mecklenburg County, which were at 170 Wednesday.

Mecklenburg County issued a “stay at home” proclamation Tuesday.

“We want people to stay home and local communities are doing what they think is right,” Cooper said Tuesday in response to a question on whether further orders would be issued in North Carolina.

“We are telling people now that we want them to stay home,” Cooper said. "We will be issuing additional orders soon.”

Cooper told county leaders across N.C. Tuesday that he expects coronavirus cases in all 100 counties “before the end of the week.” Currently, COVID-19 cases have been reported in at least 57 counties.

Cooper says the “number one mission right now is to save lives” and protect the people of North Carolina.

Dr. Mandy Cohen spoke with county managers across the state as well, stating that about 20 percent of people who contract the virus will need hospital-level care, while 80 percent who test positive for coronavirus will get mild illness.

For reference, Cohen pointed out that some of our worst flu seasons only needed 2 percent of hospital-level care.

Last week, Cooper signed an executive order closing all public K-12 schools until May 15.

Cooper said that despite not getting all the coronavirus tests the state requested, North Carolina has found more ways to get people who need it tested. Monday afternoon, Cooper said, there were at least 8,438 tests completed with 10,000 more tests waiting to be run.

Director of Emergency Management Michael Sprayberry said North Carolina has also sent a request to FEMA and the White House for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would authorize “may of the same programs activated after a hurricane.”

Sprayberry said North Carolinians can still call 211 with any questions related to the coronavirus or assistance.

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Public schools in the state will remain closed through May 15, Cooper announced in an order Monday.

An order for North Carolina remains in place to keep mass gatherings to 50 people or less.

Gov. Cooper also previously issued an executive order that closes bars and restaurants to dine-in customers. The order unlocked unemployment benefits for those who lost, or lose, their job during the coronavirus outbreak.

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