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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Small Business Owners Among Those Pushing To 'Reopen NC'


North Carolina’s stay-at-home order has hit many small businesses hard. A group called Reopen NC is holding a protest Tuesday at the state capitol in Raleigh, calling on leaders to lift restrictions on businesses ordered to close because of the coronavirus. But there’s no sign of whether Gov. Roy Cooper will let the order expire at the end of the month.


Pete Benson, owner of Benson Pro Audio in Havelock, estimated his business will lose about $300,000 in gross revenue between the third week of March and the end of May. The company sets up audio equipment for concerts, church services and corporate events -- gatherings prohibited under the current statewide stay-at-home order.


“We went from, ‘How are we going to staff all of these events to, ‘Uh oh, what are we gonna do with our staff?” Benson said, adding that he laid off several employees.


Benson is a member of the recently created Facebook group ReOpen NC, which is calling on Cooper to lift stay-at-home restrictions by May 1. The group had 61,896 members as of 7 p.m. Monday.


“I think everybody needs to get back to work,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable with it, stay home.”


Benson said he thinks individual business owners and customers should be able to decide whether they want to operate or patronize businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. He also thinks the state has not had enough cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to justify the extent of Cooper’s order. North Carolina had 179 deaths and 6,764 laboratory-confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus as of Monday night.


Another small business owner, Karen Sergent-Rakers, wants to reopen her picture framing business near Goldsboro, Karen’s Custom Frames, and thinks she can do so safely.


“We can do the sanitation. We can do the disinfecting. We can limit how many come into our shops so much better than the Walmarts and the Lowe’s and the Michael’s and places like that,” Sergent-Rakers said.


Sergent-Rakers and her husband, a maintenance manager at a window manufacturing plant who recently took a coronavirus-related pay cut, are worried about their monthly bills.


North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Monday it is too early to tell when North Carolina could reopen.


“I think that those are the things we want to think about in the coming weeks,” Cohen said at a press briefing, adding that the statewide stay-at-home order has kept the number of cases in the state from spiking and overwhelming hospital systems.


She said officials now need to focus on three things: testing, tracing and trends.


Cohen said labs, hospitals and doctor’s offices need to expand the testing they are able to do, including using different types of tests to diversify the supply chain and finding a way to test without using up valuable personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.


State officials also must set up a system for tracing the contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus, a process known as contact tracing, and closely examine state data like hospitalization rates and death rates, said Cohen.


“We want to make sure we are trending downward,” she said.


Cohen said officials need to figure out a smart way to reopen North Carolina that protects residents until there’s a vaccine. 

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.