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Friday News: Not nearly enough


LEGISLATURE BUDGETS $600 MILLION, HOSPITALS LOSING $1 BILLION A MONTH: Lawmakers in the state House backed a bill Thursday with more than $600 million in it for COVID-19 research, medical care, hospital bailouts and a slew of other programs. A key budget writer called it "phase one." The North Carolina Healthcare Association says hospitals around the state are out about $1 billion a month because of the elimination of profitable non-essential procedures and spending on COVID-19 preparations. The House working group, laying out priorities ahead of next week's legislative session, also approved a bill that details long-term plans for a new state stockpile of personal protective equipment – the PPE considered so crucial to protect hospital and other front-line workers from the new coronavirus.

Thursday News: Stay tuned


GOVERNOR COOPER TO RELEASE DETAILS OF REOPEN PLAN TODAY: Gov. Roy Cooper will make an announcement at 3 p.m. Thursday about when and how to start lifting restrictions, as North Carolina tries to control the spread of coronavirus, a source close to the governor confirmed. Cooper had earlier said he would announce a decision this week about the stay-at-home order, which is set to expire April 29, and on opening school facilities, which are now closed through May 15. Cooper did not hold a press conference on Wednesday. Cooper also said Tuesday that he wants to “ease back” restrictions so the virus does not spike and overwhelm our hospitals. The governor said the decision about the reopening of schools will include guidance from public health officials about what is needed to make students safe in school, the N&O previously reported.

Wednesday News: Fraud is my middle name


MCCRAE DOWLESS CASHED SSI DISABILITY CHECKS WHILE WORKING: McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the center of the allegations of absentee-ballot fraud that brought down Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris in 2018, has been indicted on new charges. A federal grand jury accused Dowless of collecting thousands of dollars in Social Security disability payments in 2017 and 2018 even though he was working for multiple political campaigns including Harris’ bid for the 9th Congressional District, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment. Social Security disability payments are typically available only to people who can’t work because of a disability. And Dowless, the indictment said, told the government that “he remained disabled and did not receive income beyond his SSI benefits” even though in fact he was working. Ultimately, he’s accused of taking at least $14,000 in unauthorized payments.

Tuesday News: Going nowhere, fast

NC REPUBLICANS PUSH FOR NO-FAN NASCAR RACING: Calls are mounting from elected officials hoping to see NASCAR return to North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend, with the Coca-Cola 600 run in front of an empty stadium in Charlotte because of coronavirus concerns. House Speaker Tim Moore joined the call Monday, writing a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper about the prospect. State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who was recently hospitalized and recovered from COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus, made much the same ask. They joined five Republican state senators who broached the subject last week. Cooper's press office said Monday that he's "already been talking with track and team owners about how we could potentially restart racing."

Monday News: Death sentence


FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOES NOT TRACK COVID 19 CASES AT PRIVATELY-RUN PRISONS: On Sunday, a public health director in North Carolina confirmed one inmate and at least three staff members have tested positive for the virus at Rivers Correctional Institution near the Hertford County town of Winton. It is a low-security prison for men run by the GEO Group in Boca Raton, Fla. Sue Allison, a spokeswoman for the bureau, confirmed last week in an email that the bureau’s case tracking does not include the privately run prisons. She did not say why. Efforts to reach bureau officials on Sunday by phone and email were unsuccessful. Irving Joyner, a law professor for N.C. Central University in Durham, said the lack of reporting out of privately-run federal prisons is another example of governmental officials not taking seriously the health and welfare of inmates in a pandemic. “This is just another example of dereliction of duty as it relates to the safety of that population that’s incarcerated by our government,” he said.

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


LEGISLATORS SHOULD FOCUS ON HUGE VOTER TURNOUT, NOT PARTISAN ADVANTAGE: Our state – for nearly a decade – has been ground-zero for just about every effort to sway election outcomes. It has been in: Hyper-partisan gerrymandering that courts have repeatedly criticized and rejected as unconstitutional and denied millions of North Carolinians a fair voice in Congress and the General Assembly. Cutting access to the ballot by efforts to limit polling places and moving them from places easily accessible to large number of voters, particularly on college campuses. Mid-election changes to the order of candidates on ballots. The elimination of non-partisan and publicly funded judicial elections. Baseless challenges to local board of elections voter rolls. Reckless allegations that some voters who cast ballots may have been ineligible. It is an indisputable record of the current legislative leadership’s relentless pursuit to enshrine GOP domination – regardless of the will of the voters.

Saturday News: 6,000+ infected


172 NC FATALITIES ASSOCIATED WITH CORONAVIRUS COMPLICATIONS: North Carolina has at least 6,031 reported cases of the coronavirus as of Saturday morning, and 172 people have died, according to state and county health departments. The state health department reported 394 new cases on Friday, the second-highest jump since the outbreak began. At least 429 North Carolinians were hospitalized with COVID-19 Friday, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s down from Thursday’s all-time high of 452. Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, has the most reported cases in the state, with 1,136. The county has reported 24 deaths. Wake County, which includes Raleigh, has 574 reported cases and three deaths. Durham County has 338 reported cases and four deaths.

Friday News: Better than nothing?


TIM MOORE WILLING TO EXPAND MEDICAID TO CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS: House budget writers voiced support for rural hospital funding and taxpayer-covered COVID-19 treatment costs Thursday as they ticked through a laundry list of funding and policy requests. They also made it clear: Not everything will get done during the coming legislative session focused on coronavirus response. There won't be enough state money for everything, nor is there an appetite to tackle long-standing policy issues that may be relevant to the crisis but don't have enough political support to move. That includes full-blown Medicaid expansion, long a top ask for North Carolina Democrats and a measure that has some support among the House Republican majority but little, at least publicly, in the state Senate. But House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday morning, during a video conference with a House working group, that he supports a temporary, and limited, expansion of Medicaid to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Thursday News: Dangerous delusions


UNC-CH RESEARCHERS TARGETED BY CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OVER VIRUS: By March, Kari Debbink, a professor at Bowie State University who holds a doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill, had received her first death threat. The reason: She was being accused of helping create the novel coronavirus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down much of the world, in a lab in North Carolina. One unfounded theory that many internet users have latched onto and that has been amplified by right wing news channels has placed its sights on North Carolina. It claims — falsely — that COVID-19 was created at UNC-Chapel Hill, specifically in the lab of Ralph Baric, where Debbink once worked. Baric is one of the world’s preeminent researchers of coronaviruses — having studied the family of viruses known for their crown-like shape for 30 years. His lab on the UNC campus was one of the first places in the U.S. to receive a sample of the novel coronavirus earlier this year to begin conducting tests.

Wednesday News: The cost of neglect

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MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS BREWING IN NC DUE TO LACK OF RESOURCES: Dr. Sy Saeed, chairman of the psychiatry department at East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine, said the state's mental health system "was already in crisis before COVID-19," adding that demand for mental health care is likely to increase due to the virus. According to Saeed, 31 counties in North Carolina have no psychiatrist. Thirteen counties have no behavioral health providers at all, and 90 out of the state's 100 counties would qualify as shortage areas for mental health providers. Saeed is director of the state's telepsychiatry program, NCStep, which began in 2013. He said the state is "ahead of the curve" because the program is already providing services to dozens of underserved locations across the state.


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