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

Gaston County To Cooper: End Stay-At-Home Order Before May

Tracy Philbeck
Tracy Philbeck

Gaston County’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 27 . That's one day after Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order began and three days before Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide order.

"Gaston County has led the state so far when it comes to getting ahead of COVID-19," said Tracy Philbeck, the chair of the Gaston County Commission.

Now Philbeck is trying to lead the state in a different direction.

He sent Cooper a letter Thursday asking him not to extend the statewide stay-at-home order into May. He said the health directors of each county can best respond to COVID-19.

"It is my thought that instead of the state being led by Charlotte, Wake, Raleigh and Durham, where you have these epicenters, or these large spikes - you can’t treat Charlotte like you treat Cleveland County," he said. 

When Gaston County issued its stay at home order, it had 11 known infections. Today it’s had 73 cases  and three deaths, though 50 have recovered.

If given local control, Philbeck said Gaston County would almost certainly still have regulations requiring social distancing.

"What we can look at is say - OK churches, if you want to gather with 50 or 70 people - you can," he said. "But take their temperature before they come in. If they have a temperature, ask them to go home. Still maintain the six-foot distance. Wear masks. So there’s a lot of things we can do now. Same thing with businesses."

Mecklenburg and Gaston have both been able to flatten the curve and slow the rate of new infections.

But while Gaston is looking for flexibility, Mecklenburg is tightening its restrictions. The county on Wednesday closed the parking lots to greenways and parks to lessen crowds. And CMS has closed all parking lots at its schools.

Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said Wednesday the county needs to do more.

"It looks like the curve is beginning to flatten," Harris said. "But it also means that we have to – have to – continue social and physical distancing and, in fact,we need to increase it to further progress in the numbers that we’re looking at."

Philbeck, a Republican, says he’s talked to leaders in Republican and Democratic counties who want the stay-at-home order to end in May. 

The debate will likely intensify over the next two weeks. 

Letter from Tracy Philbeck to Gov. Roy Cooper by WFAE on Scribd

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.