Though the official guidelines from Governor Cooper on which businesses are essential and which must shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic are publicly available, it appears that they are not being equitably enforced. Gaston County is asking for a list of non-essential businesses that have been told they could remain open during the lockdown. The request comes after Vape Citi—a vape shop in the Gaston County town of Stanley—was granted permission to remain open, despite being told by the NC Department of Revenue they did not qualify as an essential business under Section 2(C)(2)-(30) [sic] of Executive Order 121. (Editor’s note: No such subsection exists in EO121; the letter appears to be referencing Section 2(C)-(30) of EO121.)
Only further increasing the confusion, it appears under Section 2(C)-(1) of Cooper’s EO121 to be provided that any business not otherwise listed as ‘essential’ may remain open so long as they do not exceed 10 customers at a time and maintain social distancing guidelines between customers, and between customers and staff.
The letter sent by the Department of Revenue to Vape Citi appears to create problems of consistency for the State. Senator Warren Daniel states in a letter to the Governor, “Government regulators are targeting churches with different, more restrictive rules than retail businesses.” Local political activists who spoke with The Cycle expressed their concern that because the letter to Vape Citi specifically identifies the store as offering a non-essential service, government officials are placed in the position of deciding which non-essential services may remain open. Though he was speaking about businesses that have been classified as essential, former Democratic State Senator Joel Ford voiced similar concern when he tweeted, “So we should trust Lowe’s, Walmart, and Big Lots. But, we can’t trust small business owners and Churches to keep their parishioners, customers & stores safe?”
Because of the rare nature of the pandemic and the response to it, we have seen county and state governments trying different policy approaches, and the discussions over both effectiveness and legality have been lively. In Guilford County Jeff Phillips, the Chair of the County Board of Commissioners, recently used his emergency power to allow churches to conduct drive-in services. Questions over the application of safety guidelines have been a recurring aspect of the lockdown during the pandemic. Michael Best, the lawyer representing certain members of the group ReOpenNC, recently wrote a letter to Gov. Cooper requesting clarification on the State’s policy regarding protests.
Separately, a Swain County man has filed a lawsuit over a curfew he says does little to curtail the spread of the virus.