Robert Strickland mops floors at Ed's Grill in downtown Whiteville on Nov. 13, 2019. Strickland, who works for the health department, helps at the grill on occasion. Many restaurants were flooded and closed for a period of time after recovering from hurricane Florence. [Melissa Sue Gerrits/For Carolina Public Press]

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All bars and restaurants throughout North Carolina are closed indefinitely to in-person dining, via an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper also loosened the requirements for workers seeking unemployment payments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Cooper also sought the aid of the U.S. Small Business Administration for businesses harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak. If granted by the administration, small businesses could apply for loans to help pay bills.

As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Health and  Human Services said 40 North Carolina residents had tested positive for the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“We know that there will be many more to come,” Cooper said in his afternoon remarks. “Reasonable and strong actions are needed now to help suppress the spread of this virus and to save lives.”

To that end, Cooper signed an executive order Tuesday to shutter all sit-down bars and restaurants starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Patrons can order food for takeout or delivery from restaurants. A copy of the governor’s order was not immediately available. Cooper did not say how long the ban on in-person dining at restaurants would be in effect.

The order also makes it easier for workers to claim unemployment benefits while lifting the financial burden that businesses ordinarily would bear.

“Today I am taking down some of the barriers to unemployment benefits in response to this unprecedented health crisis,” Cooper said.

The order draws unemployment benefits from the state’s $3.8 billion unemployment trust fund and removes the one-week waiting period to apply for benefits.

People who have either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced can qualify for unemployment benefits. Workers can apply for benefits over the phone or online and do not have to conduct an in-person interview.

During that time, the worker is not required to look for another job. The order also directs that employers will not be responsible for benefits paid as a direct result of COVID-19.

The Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, an advocacy group for those businesses, lauded Cooper’s announcement on Twitter, calling it a “step in the right direction.”

Lynn Minges, the president and CEO of the association, tweeted, “The NC Hospitality community thanks Gov. Cooper for his strong leadership during this difficult time. These aren’t easy decisions.”

Cooper declared a state of emergency on March 10 due to the threat from the new coronavirus.


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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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