RALEIGH — North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Monday his impeding lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper for unilaterally closing businesses and mandating face masks due to COVID-19 isn’t politically motivated, despite their November election matchup.
Forest, a Republican, said at a news conference the Democratic incumbent has failed to seek or receive support for a half-dozen executive orders since March from the Council of State. That began with a March 17 ban on dine-in restaurant services.
“This lawsuit is not interested in the substance of Gov. Cooper’s orders,” Forest said at the Legislative Building. “In times of crisis, the rule of law is more important than ever. We must do the right thing in the right way. No one — governor or citizen — is above the rule of law.”
Cooper and his administration have said he has other authority — citing several laws — to act on his own without the council’s “concurrence” to protect health and safety. The 10-member council is composed of Cooper, Forest and eight other statewide elected officials. Six council members are Republican.
Forest has been one of Cooper’s most vocal critics about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in particular issuing statewide directives shuttering business and capping attendance at mass assemblies. The closings have contributed to double-digit unemployment. Some sectors are still closed three months after his first stay-at-home order.
The lawsuit accusing Cooper of violating the state’s Emergency Management Act actually hasn’t been filed. Forest’s office said it will happen as soon as paperwork is finalized allowing him to sue without using the state Attorney General’s lawyers. In a letter to Cooper last week laying out his case, Forest wrote there was a conflict of interest because Department of Justice attorneys helped draft the executive orders being challenged.
Other lawsuits filed by business owners challenging Cooper’s executive orders as violating the state constitution have been unsuccessful to date. Forest said his lawsuit isn’t a political move.
“There’s nothing politically expedient about suing the governor,” Forest said. “My office motto, my team model, has always been always to do the right thing, no matter what the cost or the consequence.”
Still, it gives Forest media attention after Cooper has been routinely on television since the spring at COVID-19 briefings. Cooper’s campaign had a massive fundraising advantage over Forest entering 2020.
Cooper campaign spokesperson Liz Doherty called Forest’s upcoming litigation a “sham lawsuit” that shows Forest “refuses to put the health and safety of North Carolinians first and simply isn’t ready to lead. Partisan politics have no place in pandemic response.”
While executive orders in May have allowed many businesses to reopen, Cooper declined last week to ease restrictions further, citing increasing case and hospitalization numbers. Cooper also ordered that people across the state wear masks or other face coverings in public. Forest said a more regional and pinpoint approach is needed to target outbreaks, rather than punish areas of the state where the number of cases are minimal.
North Carolina state health data shows about 63,500 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday based on over 886,000 completed tests. Well over 800 people testing positive are currently hospitalized, and 1,325 people have died since the pandemic began.
There’s been tremendous pressure from businesses and conservative activists upon Republicans to attempt overturn Cooper’s current orders. Cooper already has vetoed two bills that would reopen bars and gyms.
Five other bills remaining on the governor’s desk reopen bowling alleys, skating rinks and amusements, and even prevent Cooper’s outdoor assembly limit of 25 people from canceling local July 4 parades and fireworks. One bill also attempts to make clear a governor must get support from a majority of council members for any statewide emergency of at least 30 days and for closing businesses.
The total number of COVID-19 cases reported in Forsyth County is poised to exceed 3,000, and one additional death was recorded over the weekend.
The Forsyth health department reported that, as of 12:35 p.m. Monday, there were 2,978 cases in the county, up 190 cases from Friday — the last day numbers were released.
That represents 83 new cases and one death reported Saturday, 64 new cases Sunday and 43 new cases Monday.
Forsyth’s highest daily case increase was 162, reported on June 1.
Forsyth reports 1,850 individuals who have recovered, for an active case count of 1,094.
Seven cases in Forsyth are linked to staff members at the county jail, up from five when the outbreak was reported initially.
County health officials did not disclose information about the latest COVID-19 death, which makes for 34 in Forsyth since mid-March.
Among the Forsyth COVID-19 patients who have died, 19 were 65 or older.
Ten were 55 to 64.
Three were 45 to 54.
Two were 25 to 34.
The Forsyth breakdown of deaths by race is: 15 whites; nine Blacks; seven Hispanics; two whose race is unknown; and one Asian.
The health department plans to hold its next testing event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at Union Baptist Church, 1200 N. Trade St. NW, in downtown Winston-Salem.
There have been at least 11,039 total cases in the 14-county Triad and Northwest North Carolina region with 245 reported deaths.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported that, as of noon Monday, there have been 63,484 confirmed cases, 1,325 deaths and 843 hospitalizations statewide.
As of noon Friday, there were 58,818 cases, 1,303 deaths and 892 hospitalized in North Carolina.
With 45,538 patients considered recovered as of noon Monday, the number of active case statewide is 17,946.
The high in daily hospitalizations was 915 on June 23. Hospitalizations have been above 800 for 14 consecutive days in North Carolina.
Public health officials now list Forsyth among eight counties in the state running the greatest risk of rapid spread of the virus. State health officials said Monday that additional personal protective equipment is being shipped to those counties.
According to the Forsyth weekly surveillance report, released Monday, 11.4%, or 2,918, of the 25,679 individuals tested for the virus were positive.
By comparison, the state’s positive testing rate has hovered between 9% and 10% since at least mid-May, including being at 9% as of Monday.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, has said she would feel more comfortable with a 5% positive rate.
Hispanic residents represent 62.9%, or 1,835, of the positive tests in Forsyth.
Black residents account for 11.3%, or 329 positive tests.
White residents make up 11.3%, or 324 positive tests.
On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the Phase 2 reopening limitations to July, citing the recent statewide increases in overall cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
Cooper also issued a statewide face mask mandate while in public hat began Friday.
The Cooper administration is monitoring five public-health data points: number of hospitalizations; number of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators available; number of positive cases; percentage of positive cases; and number of individuals coming to hospital emergency rooms with COVID-19 symptoms.
Cohen said it remains too soon to have definitive data on whether there have been outbreaks at mass gatherings, whether at recent Black Lives Matter protests or the thousands of fans who attend three separate racing events at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw.
Cohen has said the data is showing increasing community spread of the virus by individuals “when they feel completely fine and they don’t know they have it” and by workers in more high-risk jobs, such as meat-processing facilities and long-term care facilities.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia’s governor ceremonially signed legislation Monday that sets a path for the eventual approval of two large-scale offshore wind farms that could produce enough electricity to power more than a million homes in the state.
The two proposed projects would be located off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. They’re part of a projected boom in the nation’s nascent offshore wind industry, which is being driven by plummeting construction costs and surging demand for renewable energy.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also touted the state as a likely hub for the industry on the Atlantic coast, citing a workforce and an infrastructure that already support a port and several shipyards.
Northam said the nation’s offshore wind industry could create 14,000 jobs in the state, ranging from people who assemble the turbines to those who ferry them out to sea.
“(W)e are building a new industry that will bring thousands of clean energy jobs to our commonwealth and grow our economy — all while protecting our environment,” the Democratic governor said.
Northam held a signing ceremony in Virginia Beach for offshore-related bills that he originally signed in April. He then toured the first two wind turbines ever erected in U.S. federal waters.
Built 27 miles off the coast, the soon-to-be-operational turbines are a pilot project. But they’re viewed as a harbinger for hundreds of turbines that are expected to sprout along the Atlantic seaboard, from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
The turbines’ massive blades hung above the calm waters of the Atlantic. Standing higher than the Washington Monument, they competed in scale with the loaded cargo vessels that passed nearby.
Only one offshore wind farm currently operates in the United States, and it’s in the state-controlled waters off Rhode Island. But experts say the industry’s future is in the nation’s federally controlled waters, which typically begin three miles from shore.
Such areas are further out of sight of tourists and out of the way of fishing operations, ports and U.S. Navy bases.
“We have 16 leases from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras,” said Jim Bennett, program manager for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s renewable energy program. “We’re looking at a dozen projects on the East Coast over the next 10 years.”
Among other things, the legislation that Northam signed stated the public benefit of getting wind energy from the proposed projects off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. They are still years away from coming online and will still require various types of federal and state approval along the way.
The project in Virginia is being developed by Dominion Energy, which plans to erect more than 200 wind turbines far off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Dominion also installed the two pilot-project turbines that Northam viewed on Monday. They’re expected to come online later this summer and be able to produce enough electricity at their peak to power 3,000 homes.
Ørsted, a Danish company that is said to be the largest offshore wind developer in the world, is serving as the construction lead on the pilot project.
“It’s rare to find an industry that is fully mature in other parts of the world but in its infancy in the U.S.,” said Hayes Framme, a government relations and communications manager for Ørsted. “It has tremendous potential from a clean energy standpoint but also from an economic standpoint.”