News: CJ Exclusives

CJ politics week in review, March 16-20

The N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
The N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:

Burr stock sales: U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is under fire for selling as much as $1.7 million in shares of stock Feb. 13, after receiving briefings the outbreak of the coronavirus would be much worse than first reported. Burr has defended himself on Twitter. Critics from the left and right have called for him either to resign his committee post or step down from the Senate. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., sold several hundred thousand dollars in shares Jan. 24, the day of an earlier COVID-19 briefing. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also executed major stock sales around this time.

Elon Poll: U.S. residents are split on whether leaders are exaggerating or downplaying the threat from the novel coronavirus, a new poll from Elon University shows. The university surveyed 3,200 U.S. residents and more than 1,100 N.C. residents about their thoughts on the pandemic. While 43% disagreed that some leaders are exaggerating the threat from coronavirus for political gain, 40% agreed with the statement. Seventeen percent are unsure. The responses were split along party lines, with Democrats more likely to say leaders are downplaying the coronavirus threat, while Republicans are more likely to say they are exaggerating it. “As coronavirus cases grow exponentially, the political response to the crisis evolves rapidly,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll in a news release. “In turn, the public’s thoughts about the virus will likely fluctuate substantially and quickly.”

N.C. 211: N.C. residents concerned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can call 2-1-1 for free and confidential information on the viral outbreak. NC 2-1-1 by United Way of North Carolina is a new resource for North Carolinians to learn about what’s available in their local community relating to food, shelter, energy assistance, housing, parenting resources, health care, employment, substance abuse treatment, and resources for the elderly and those with disabilities. People can text COVIDNC to 898211 to receive general information and updates on the virus. 

Community spread: The first case of community spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina is identified. An individual in Wilson County has contracted the disease without traveling to an outbreak zone or being exposed to someone who has the virus, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a March 19 news conference. The number of coronavirus cases in North Carolina has risen to 115.

Small business aid: The U.S. Small Business Association is willing to aid North Carolina’s small business by approving Gov. Roy Cooper’s request for a disaster declaration. The move allows small businesses suffering economic losses because of the coronavirus outbreak to apply for low interest SBA disaster loans. “Many small businesses are desperate right now, and this SBA approval will help,” Cooper said in a news release. “Even more is needed, and we will continue to push for additional assistance while we work to protect the health of North Carolinians.” Applicants can go online to apply for the loan.

NCFREE: The N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation in the past has hosted forums with candidates running for open seats, but this year will be a little different. NCFREE will release a series of one-on-one recorded video interviews with candidates, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “These video interviews are part of our district profile one-pagers, connecting the dots as to why NCFREE is focusing on a particular set of districts and their races for the fall,” Anna Beavon Gravely, executive director, says in a news release. 

Coronavirus test: UNC-Chapel Hill scientists have developed a new coronavirus test for use for UNC Health patients. “The benefit for our test is really our turnaround time,” Melissa Miller, director of the Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Microbiology Labs at UNC Medical Center, told the Herald Sun. “We reserve the test for patients for whom that makes the biggest difference.” The Food and Drug Administration requires UNC Labs to send the first five positive and first five negative tests to the state lab to ensure accuracy. Once the test is deemed accurate, UNC can report cases on their own.

Coronavirus committee: N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has created a bipartisan committee to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The House Select Committee on COVID-19 will meet remotely with crisis policy working groups to craft immediate and long-term legislative responses to the pandemic. Working groups will focus on health care, economic support, the continuity of state operations, and education. The public can listen to the meetings online. Meetings will begin as soon as next week.