NC Struggles with Science, Politics, Increasing Infections, Social Distancing, and Poultry

By Greg Chabon

Continuing in its role as something of an anomaly in the South, North Carolina continues to try to balance scientific and health data, political pressure, an increasing COVID-19 infection rate, and recent poultry plant infections in its quest to slowly reopen its economy.  Governor Roy Cooper recently made national news by refusing to guarantee that the Republican National Convention, currently scheduled for Charlotte from August 24-27, 2020, would operate at “full capacity” under the state’s reopening protocols.

Attendance is estimated at more than 50,000, would involve 1,200 special “convention-related” events and require more than 15,000 hotel rooms. NC Secretary of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Mandy Cohen has asked the GOP Convention CEO for a public health plan for the event.

Currently, NC is in “Phase 2” of its reopening strategy.  Running through June 26th, Phase 2 allows more businesses to reopen, provided they comply with health and safety guidelines, while continuing to encourage those who can work remotely to do so.  While there had been an expectation that NC was “flattening the curve” after the State issued wide ranging “stay at home” and business closure orders in March, newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina rebounded on May 29th for one of the higher one-day increases on record according to statistics from the N.C. DHHS.  In addition, North Carolina added 33 COVID-19 deaths since Wednesday, May 27th, one of the largest daily increases in that number, bringing the state’s total to 827 deaths known to be from illness related to COVID-19. 

The GOP Convention issue is also coming to a head at time when the number of North Carolina cases appears to be rising.  In addition, the images of a crowded motor speedway in Alamance County over the Memorial Day weekend, with the Winston-Salem Journal reporting that “Numerous safety precaution requirements set by the county’s health department were either not observed or openly flouted,” has further emphasized the risks of large gatherings.  This has raised concerns among state officials about how the 50,000 person GOP Convention could be safely conducted.

Finally, as experienced in some meat packing plants in the Midwest, two poultry plants in NC have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 (one in Wilkesboro in the Western part of the State, and one in Siler City in the central part).  According to North Carolina Health News, North Carolina ranks third in the nation for the highest number of meatpacking workers who have contracted COVID-19. 

The issues faced by North Carolina in reopening are echoing across many states, and the GOP Convention is attracting national attention and debate regarding many of those issues.  What is clear is that the struggle to bolster the economy while balancing health and safety is far from simple or straightforward.