Tuesday, 24 March 2020 13:34

Governor doubles down on restrictions to slow virus as business worries grow

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N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a news briefing Tuesday, March 17, 2020. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a news briefing Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Screenshot from UNC-TV

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced a slew of new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

He stopped short of issuing an order to shelter in place during a news conference Monday, March 23, though industry leaders worry one could be forthcoming. They hope he considers the ensuing ripple effects.

“While we understand the dire need to stop the spread of the virus — we believe a balance should be struck in order to keep critical manufacturing industries in business and operating — even during a shelter-in-place order,” said Brad Muller, vice president of marketing and corporate management at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry.

New York, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, and New Jersey have all ordered residents to stay at home as much as possible. In some states, all nonessential businesses are closed while essential industries such as health care, food services, and energy production are allowed to remain open.

A shelter-in-place order could have dire consequences for businesses deemed nonessential.

Already, the state is inundated with 110,000 claims for unemployment insurance, Cooper said.

“If we were shut down by a shelter-in-place order, more than 1,200 North Carolina workers would be sitting at home instead of producing plumbing pipe and fittings, which are essential for health and sanitation and clean drinking water,” Muller said.

If Cooper implements shelter-in-place, Muller hopes he follows the directive from the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. CISA outlines 16 critical infrastructure sectors vital for the country to continue to operate. Manufacturing is one of those necessary sectors.

The N.C. Manufacturers Alliance, a nonprofit representing manufacturing companies across the state, shared its concerns with Cooper on a conference call. Like Muller, it recommends the governor follows CISA guidelines.

Manufacturers deemed nonessential should have the ability to appeal the classification under a shelter-in-place order, Preston Howard, NCMA president, said in the conference call.

A shelter-in-place order is still on the table, Cooper said.

All N.C. public schools will be closed until May 15, Cooper announced Monday. The new executive order also requires gyms, hair and nail salons, spas, health clubs, movie theaters, and other similar businesses to close by 5 p.m. Wednesday. Mass gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited.

Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. Restaurants and private clubs can continue to provide takeout or deliveries, but they aren’t allowed to hold in-person dining.

“I know these actions cause heartache for a lot of people but they are necessary to save lives,” Cooper said.

Critical medical supplies and equipment are running low, Cooper said. While the government is looking through all available channels to buy more, the governor encouraged people and businesses to donate what they can.

Charlotte Pipe and Foundry manufactures portions of health care supplies — from the wheels on mobile X-ray units to pipes and fittings for hospitals and clinics.

But they could do even more if called upon.

“We have the capacity in our cast iron foundry to make other metal castings that are needed for the health care sector,” Muller said.

NCMA and its member companies are committed to working with the governor in controlling the spread of COVID-19, Howard said.

“Governor, our companies very much feel like we are all in this together,” Howard said. “They have taken aggressive actions and will continue to be proactive going forward.”