Rep. Ray Russell’s July 6th Newsletter on Coronavirus Updates, Announcements and Info

Published Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Monday evening, July 6, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 3,040,833. Of late, an average of 50,000 new cases are being reported every day. Sadly, 132,979 people have died from coronavirus.
 
In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 74,834. Currently, 982 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 1,438 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus. 55,318 are presumed to have recovered. The number of new cases and the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 continue to climb.
 
Much more data is available at the NC DHHS “Dashboard”. See https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.
 
Locally, the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Ashe County is 58. The number of Watauga County residents who have tested positive is 96. Sixty-seven of these cases are currently active. Six people in the district are currently hospitalized. One person has died in Ashe County from coronavirus. In Ashe and Watauga Counties, 131 residents are currently being monitored as possibly having Covid-19.
 
You can get more local data from the AppHealth Care Dashboard at https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/covid-19-data-dashboard/.
 
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
 
What is your superpower to end this pandemic? Wear a face mask in public settings. Wait 6 feet apart. Wash your hands frequently.
 
Listen to the statement by Dr. Fauci in a press conference June 26:
“You have an individual responsibility to yourself but you have a societal responsibility. … Anyone who gets infected or is at risk of getting infected to a greater or lesser degree is part of the dynamic process of the outbreak. People are infecting other people. And then ultimately, you will infect someone who’s vulnerable. Now, that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle who’s on chemotherapy and who’s on radiation or chemotherapy or a child who has leukemia.”
 
Simply put, we must pull together to get this pandemic under control.
 
Ending the Short Session
Traditionally, even-numbered years in the NC General Assembly are called “Short Sessions” running from late April to late June. This year is especially challenging because:
  • We are in a public health crisis,
  • Legislative leaders never passed a 2019-2021 Biennium Budget,
  • State revenues have fallen sharply due to the pandemic,
  • Tax deadlines were pushed back to July 15 that make fiscal estimates more difficult, and
  • Uncertainty over exactly how states can use CARES Act money and whether additional federal money will be available.
 
I started writing this newsletter 10 days ago after a marathon session that lasted until 3 AM Friday, June 26. Except for September 11, 2019, when Legislative Leadership stooped to unprecedented levels of deception to steal the House budget vote, June 26 was the most disturbing day of this biennium. Ramming through dozens of bills in 10 hours with hundreds of pages legislation previously seen previously by only a handful of people is no way to conduct the people’s business. And not surprisingly, many bad bills were passed. I postponed publishing the newsletter awaiting more clarity regarding how the events would play out.
 
Underlying the difficulty however is dysfunction in the NC Legislature that existed long before I was elected to the NC House. Over one year ago, I wrote the NC Sunshine Act. It included 5 simple ideas to improve transparency in NC Government:
  • Live video of legislative sessions and committee meetings,
  • Session and meeting agendas with 24 hour notice,
  • Sessions ending by 10 PM,
  • Appropriation earmarks requiring the name of the legislator who placed it in the bill,
  • No “gut and replace” bills (where a committee strips an existing bill making it something completely unrelated to the original intent).
Of course legislative leaders who exploit the current process for their partisan purposes would not consider those reforms at all, but the value of all five items was on full display at 3 PM June 26.
 
We return to Raleigh Tuesday and Wednesday (July 7-8) to work through the problems. I’ll report again at the end of this week.
 
Bills Passed and Signed into Law
I voted FOR all the bills in this section. I added a short explanation for on items of particular importance to Ashe and Watauga County. To learn more about any of these bills see https://www.ncleg.gov/Legislation.
  • House Bill 902: P&C Changes/ Glob. Tranp./ Prison Pilot
  • Senate Bill 808: Medicaid Funding Act
This bill provided funds and set a timetable for the delayed transformation of Medicaid. I also contains additional funding for vital COVID-19 testing and tracing.
  • House Bill 118: COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor
Several people commented about this bill before and after the vote. My primary reason for supporting the bill is that without this law a business owner (restaurant, retail shop, manufacturing, etc.) could do their best to comply with NCDHHS and CDC guidelines and still be subject to a lawsuit. That potential financial blow is a hardship that most small business cannot survive right now.
Other factors in my vote include: The North Carolina Advocates for Justice did not oppose the bill. And the bill expressly does allow lawsuits against businesses/institutions in the case of “gross negligence,
willful or wanton conduct, or intentional wrongdoing”.
  • House Bill 425: Implement Conner’s Law
The bill appropriates funds that provide an extra death benefit for families of courageous public safety workers killed in the line of duty.
  • House Bill 1053: PED/ Military OL & Audiology Interstate Compact
This bill makes it easier for military spouses to continue working when their family has to pick up and move.
 
Bills that Passed but Vetoed by the Governor
  • Senate Bill 599: Open Skating Rinks/Bowling Alleys
  • Senate Bill 105: Clarify Emergency Powers
  • House Bill 806: Open Exercise & Fitness Facilities
  • House Bill 258: Open Amusement Parks/Arcades/Venues
  • House Bill 686: Freedom to Celebrate the Fourth of July
The five bills listed above attempt to change current processes for making Emergency Decisions or alter decisions that have been made. I voted against all these bills and will vote to sustain the veto if given opportunity this week.
As I have stated previously… I will vote against bills that attempt to: 1) circumvent public health professionals and scientific data on bills related to relaxing physical distancing rules or 2) take the decision-making authority from the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force. I believe these bills put public health at risk for partisan purposes. In light of the ongoing pandemic with daily records for new infections and the fact that other states are currently overwhelmed by the pandemic, these bills are ill-advised.
 
  • House Bill 612: DSS Review of Procedures/Criminal History/OAH
HB 612 limits the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to implement, adapt to and oversee programs of public assistance and child welfare and is likely unconstitutional. I voted against this bill.
 
  • House Bill 652: 2nd Amendment Protection Act
The two provisions in this bill made changes to concealed carry laws. The first provision allows EMT workers to be able to have concealed carry because they are often on the scene of threatening situations before law enforcement arrive. A second provision allows concealed carry during church services when the church is renting public school property. I am not in favor of this practice. I voted for the bill based on my support of the first provision.
 
  • House Bill 918: Expedite Permanency/DHHS Report SNAP/TANF
House Bill 918 would have the effect of discouraging pregnant women with substance use disorders from seeking treatment and prenatal care, risking their health and the health of newborns. I voted No on this bill.
 
  • Senate Bill 168: DHHS & Other Revisions
This bill was vetoed late Monday afternoon. The bill has many good items in it and it passed both chambers of the legislature with only 1 dissenting vote. But… In the rush of bills being pushed through Thursday night one item in the bill is a “stinker”–hiding information about some death investigations from the public. Hopefully, this week a bill with everything except that one provision will pass the legislature and be signed by the Governor.
 
Help During the Pandemic
DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced last week the launch of a website that will assist those in need of things like help navigating the unemployment landscape, food assistance, or housing and shelter, among other things.
 
The NCCARE360.org website is now interactive for all 100 counties. A test program was created in 2019 for four NC counties, and it was thought it would take until December 2020 for the program to go live for the whole state, but teams rollled up their sleeves and worked overtime to make it available during this critical time for the state. Go to the website to request assistance from agencies in your area: https://nccare360.org/
 
If You have Coronavirus Symptoms…
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Watauga County:
1) Call AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995 or (828) 795-1970 during regular business hours,
2) Visit https://apprhs.org/covid19-screening/ online and follow screening instructions, or
3) Call your primary care doctor.
 
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Ashe County call AppHealthCare at 336-246-9449 or call your primary care doctor.
 
More Information
Our public heath office, AppHealthCare, is the primary local source of information about coronavirus. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/
 
For more information from our hospitals, see Appalachian Regional’s website at https://apprhs.org/COVID19/ or Ashe Memorial Hospital’s website at https://www.ashememorial.org/ for their updates.
 
For information specific to North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) provides the latest information on COVID-19 at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/. Also, North Carolina coronavirus updates are available by calling 888.892.1162 or by texting COVIDNC to 898211
 
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