North Carolina’s government has a message for small businesses, hospitals and schools throughout the state: Help is on the way. On May 4, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law two bills, both unanimously passed by the General Assembly, that together designate nearly $1.6 billion for the state’s COVID-19 response and grant flexibility in many areas of regulation.
Joining the Democratic governor at the signing were Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, whose Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature. “I hope the spirit of consensus that brings us together today will continue,” Cooper remarked.
Among the largest appropriations in the House bill are $125 million for small business loans to be administered through the Golden Leaf Foundation, $75 million for school nutrition needs through the end of the school year and $65 million in grants for rural hospitals. The bill also includes $300 million that, pending federal approval, could be used to replace lost revenue for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The Senate bill deals primarily with state regulations. Measures include waiving interest on income taxes through Wednesday, July 15, temporarily allowing video notarization of official documents and modifying some testing requirements for public schools.
Cooper noted that, despite their agreements on the measures included in the two bills, Democrats and Republicans have not yet reached common ground on changes to the state’s unemployment insurance. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, said the legislature hopes to come to a consensus before expanded federal unemployment benefits run out at the end of July.
Buncombe notes bump in COVID-19 among Latinos
Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe County’s interim public health director, said during a May 4 press conference that cases of COVID-19 were increasing among the county’s Latino population. According to the county’s website, just under a quarter of Buncombe’s 79 confirmed cases of the disease had been diagnosed in Hispanic residents, a group the U.S. Census Bureau estimates makes up less than 7% of the county’s population.
Mullendore did not offer an explanation as to why COVID-19 seemed to be spreading disproportionately in the Latino population. She did note that most of Buncombe’s coronavirus information had been made available in Spanish and that the county was working with community partners to respond to the trend.
“Transparency and accessibility continue to be important values in our COVID-19 response, because we know it can save lives,” Mullendore said.
In other news
- On May 1, the town of Weaverville announced that it would refuse to obey Buncombe County’s COVID-19 executive order, opting instead to abide by less-restrictive state guidance. “We have concluded that Weaverville does not present unique circumstances that require restrictions above and beyond what Gov. Cooper adopted statewide based on the public health guidance that he is receiving,” read a press release announcing the move. On May 4, however town leaders clarified that they would continue to prohibit lodging operations from hosting leisure travelers.
- Buncombe County reopened its seven river parks and the Collier Cove Nature Preserve on May 1. “As long as visitors practice ‘COV-etiquette,’ these parks will remain open for everyone to enjoy fresh air,” said Josh O’Conner, the county’s director of recreation services.
- Sen. Thom Tillis will continue a series of telephone town halls to inform North Carolinians about the federal COVID-19 response. Events take place on Tuesday, May 5, and Thursday, May 7, at 11:30 a.m., as well as Friday, May 8, at 10:10 a.m; all can be livestreamed online.
- Asheville will ring the bell atop of City Hall at noon each day through Saturday, May 9, in honor of Public Service Recognition Week. “As public servants we carry a unique responsibility, especially in times of crisis,” said Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell.