As coronavirus cases continue to rise in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a statewide stay-at-home order during a March 27 news conference. His action was made without publicly available data and will cripple the economy, some state leaders say. 

The number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 763 in 60 counties. Four people have died from complications linked to the virus. 

Under the order, N.C. residents will be required to stay at home unless they go out for food, medical services, or work at an essential business (defined in Section 2 of the order). People can still visit a place of worship, volunteer, or exercise outdoors. Businesses that have practiced social distancing can remain open. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.

The order goes into effect March 30 and will last until April 29 unless the order is extended or revised.

“We have to act now in the safest, smartest way while we have the chance to save lives. It is truly a matter of life and death,” Cooper said.

Several counties, including Wake, Mecklenburg, Orange, and Durham have already issued their own stay-at-home orders. The statewide order affects all counties. For counties with existing orders, the more restrictive order applies. The Wake County order, which took effect at 5 p.m. Friday, was set to expire April 17. Now it will last at least 12 more days.

Cooper has essentially shut down daily life for every North Carolinian, said Amy Cooke, the CEO of the John Locke Foundation.

“He’s using blunt force when maybe a surgical tool would be appropriate,” Cooke said. “Raleigh and Charlotte aren’t like Avery and Pasquotank counties. Even worse, he has done it without releasing any kind of study suggesting that such an extreme measure is necessary.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, wants random testing of larger population samples before the state takes such action.

“Government leaders are making decisions without the benefit of relevant and obtainable data. Unfortunately, they don’t know how prevalent the virus is and has been in the population,” Berger said in a news release. “Therefore, we do not have sufficient, reliable information to understand true hospitalization and fatality rates.”

If random sample testing reveals that a statewide shelter in place order is necessary, then presenting that data publicly will increase compliance, Berger said. 

But state officials can’t wait, said Mandy Cohen, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary. It’s essential to prevent a lot of people from getting sick at the same time and overwhelming the health care system.

“We do not have the luxury of time,” Cohen said. “We must act quickly based on what we do know to slow the spread of the virus.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who served as speaker of the N.C. House alongside Berger, said the governor made a difficult, but correct decision to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

“I’m glad this order allows essential industries to continue their important work while also providing flexibility to North Carolina businesses that are able to practice social distancing and maintain a safe and healthy work environment to protect their employees and the general public,” Tillis said in a news release.

Critics have argued restrictive stay-at-home orders will devastate the economy and ruin small business owners. Unemployment numbers in North Carolina already have skyrocketed, with nearly 300,000 new unemployment claims since March 16.