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NC Chamber urges businesses to reopen immediately with focus on safety

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The NC Chamber today released Relaunching North Carolina, suggesting principles that N.C. companies should follow in reopening businesses immediately while making safety the highest priority. Virtually all businesses would be reopen under the proposal except for bars and senior-housing sites.

The move from the state’s major business-promotion organization comes as North Carolina remains among the last U.S. states to encourage a reopening of business activity, reflecting Gov. Roy Cooper’s cautious approach in facing the coronavirus pandemic. Cooper’s executive orders and regular admonitions urging citizens to stay at home have resulted in a limited spread of the coronavirus and lower-than-average mortality rate, compared with many other states. At least 464 people have died in the state from the virus, and another 500 remain in the hospital.

But many N.C. business leaders have urged Cooper to loosen restrictions on a policy that may have exacerbated an explosion in jobless claims. More than 10% of the state’s population and nearly 20% of the workforce has filed such claims in the last two months because of widespread business closings.

Cooper has said he will disclose more details this week on a three-phase plan for reopening businesses and social activities if data shows the virus is waning, effective Saturday. He has emphasized the need for the state to have sufficient capacity for testing people who have contracted the coronavirus and enough people to track the activity of those who have tested positive.

It is time to relaunch North Carolina’s economy. Our state’s employers are willing and equipped to provide a safe opportunity for people to meet the needs of their families and communities,” Gary J. Salamido, president and CEO of the NC Chamber, said in a press release. “We are committed to a safe, responsible approach that starts now. Reconnecting North Carolinians with employment is an integral component of restoring health to our communities.”

A Main Street America poll conducted in March reveals that 30% of small businesses anticipate closing permanently if the COVID-19 shutdown persists more than two months.

The Chamber’s three-phase plan suggests allowing businesses to reopen as soon as they are comfortable. The proposal was created by the organization’s staff and members representative of the overall chamber, says spokeswoman Kate Payne.

The first phase emphasizes that employees should return to work in stages with reasonable accommodations provided based on advice from public health officials. It also calls for employers to permit teleworking where possible.

A second phase would enable bars to reopen with 50% capacity and social distancing protocols in place, while a third phase would “consider adjustments to restrictions on long-term care facilities, jails and prisons.” A large percentage of those contracting the virus live in senior-housing sites and correctional facilities.

A second section in the Chamber proposal outlines long-term steps to create “a more resilient disaster preparedness and recovery strategy for future crises.”

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