MONROE – Union County is drafting a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper to request he lift the statewide stay-at-home order to allow counties the authority to decide on such restrictions for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Commissioner Frank Aikmus added a discussion item to “reopen Union County” during the board’s April 20 meeting. He suggested to colleagues they write to Cooper, reasoning that county leaders know their constituents better than state leaders.
“I think right now we’re conducting a surgery with a machete versus a scalpel,” Aikmus told colleagues. “My concern is Union County as a whole is suffering. Our businesses, our community members here are at great risk, and I fear this has become more of a political issue.”
Commissioners supported the idea.
Cooper issued the stay-at-home order from March 30 to April 29. The order allowed only essential businesses to continue to operate and reduced the size of gatherings to 10 people.
Commissioner Stony Rushing said the stay-at-home order is doing damage to the economy by not allowing non-essential businesses to operate. Rushing also described enforcement of the order as subjective.
“When you look at the threat of people being fined for attending church services in their vehicles and just completely subjective and silly enforcement of this throughout the country – I think it is time that we make it a local decision and what we think is important to Union County,” Rushing said.
Commissioners directed county attorney Jason Kay to draft the letter and allow board members to give input before it is sent to the governor.
Union County declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 on March 16. The county confined public access to buildings, such as the government center, from 8 a.m. to noon beginning March 18. Two days later, the county announced it was closing all of its buildings and facilities to the public starting March 23.
County Manager Mark Watson praised his staff for not only protecting themselves and the public from the spread of COVID-19, but he also credited them for adjusting to teleworking.
“A lot of our workgroups have figured that out and mastered that,” Watson said. “We have not seen any decrease in productivity as a result of teleworking and flex scheduling. These employees have figured out a way to get their jobs done and serve the public in Union County.”
Watson outlined a timeline for county operations to return to normal. It starts with county staff returning to work in phases through the week of May 11. County buildings will partially open to the public from 8 a.m. to noon around May 15.
May 26 is the target to open all county facilities, including parks, to general public access. Amenities for team sports may not be in play due to social distancing, but things like walking trails and campgrounds are anticipated to open.
Union County has reported 171 COVID-19 cases, including 6 deaths, through April 21.
Commissioner Jerry Simpson said it’s difficult as an elected official to balance the need for caution while maintaining your ideals.
“We are faced with risks as long as we live,” Simpson said. “Life’s a circle. We all get our opportunity. What I want to see this county do – what I want to see this state and nation do is to continue to provide opportunities for my kids and my grandkids. I’ve had my opportunity. I think it’s time to pony up and move forward and bring this country back and bring it back quickly.”