GOVERNOR COOPER ISSUES 60-DAY FREEZE OF UTILITY DISCONNECTS: Cases of coronavirus topped 1,500 in North Carolina on Tuesday, as residents hunkered down under statewide stay-at-home restrictions and Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order prohibiting utility companies from shutting off service to people who are unable to pay. “Today’s action orders that electric, gas, water and wastewater services can’t be shut off for the next 60 days,” Cooper said in an afternoon news conference, adding that telecom companies that provide phone, cable and internet services are “strongly urged to follow these same rules.” The order also encourages banks not to charge customers for overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties for the next 60 days, while landlords are “strongly encouraged to follow the spirit of” an order previously enacted by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, which delays evictions already in the court system.
HOBBY LOBBY TAKES HEAT FOR KEEPING ITS STORES OPEN: Hobby Lobby on Capital Boulevard, like many of its locations, remains open for business. Julius Conwell sees the arts and crafts store as an essential business. "Those supplies maybe help their children to help with things they can do at home until this thing really breaks," said Conwell, a Raleigh resident. In Tuesday’s news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper said businesses can stay open if they practice social distancing. We spoke with a Hobby Lobby employee who tells me the arts and crafts store is allowing 10 people to shop *inside* at a time. Wake County Commissioner Greg Ford said officials received several complaints about Hobby Lobby being open for in-store shopping. Wake County officials say craft stores are not considered essential business and must be closed for the remainder of the county and state orders to stay home. We reached out to the state Department of Revenue, the organization that determines if businesses are essential. A spokesperson says businesses that were not included on the list of essential businesses can make direct requests to the Department of Revenue and can continue to operate once they have made the request until they receive a response.
JUDGE FORCES WAKE SHERIFF TO RESUME ISSUING PISTOL PERMITS: Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley issued the order, and said Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker must also modify the application process to minimize the number of people in the justice center, WNCN reported. Baker temporarily suspended accepting new pistol purchasing permits on March 24. That was two weeks after Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in North Carolina and 11 days after President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency. According to documents, between March 10 and March 24, the sheriff’s office received applications in “unprecedented numbers” and caused more than 50 people to gather in the Wake County Public Safety Center. That gathering was in violation of March 22 Proclamation of Emergency Restrictions put in place by the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Baker said his office had 755 pending permits when he made the decision to put things on hold.
370,000 OF NC'S RESTAURANT AND HOTEL WORKERS ARE OUT OF WORK: North Carolina’s restaurant and hotel operators pleaded Tuesday for state financial aid and tax relief as closings and travel restrictions from the new coronavirus have thrown more than 370,000 of their employees out of work. Speaking to a state House committee on the virus-induced economic contraction, hospitality industry leaders said expanded unemployment benefits and assistance approved in Washington won’t come soon enough. “The funding is weeks away and North Carolina businesses, we need help now,” Amber Moshakos with Raleigh-based LM Restaurants said during the video conference meeting. Twenty-one LM-owned restaurants in North Carolina employ over 1,700 workers. Moshakos said reducing the workforce to less than 100, as a statewide order limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery began, marked the hardest day in the family-owned company’s 42-year history. North Carolina reported about 1,500 positive COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, an increase of 190 compared to Monday. Eight state residents have now died. Over 150 people are hospitalized. More National Guard members have been activated, Cooper said later Tuesday, some of whom could develop makeshift hospitals should traditional hospital beds become full in the weeks ahead.
TORNADOES AND HURRICANES COULD BE DEVASTATING THIS YEAR DUE TO WARM GULF WATERS: Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are running more than three degrees above average, increasing the prospects for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes this spring and potentially stronger hurricane activity in the summer and fall. The last time Gulf of Mexico waters were similarly warm in 2017, it coincided with an above-average tornado season through the spring, and then Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast at the end of summer. The balmy gulf waters have already contributed to abnormal warmth across the Deep South, where virtually the entirety of the Interstate 10 corridor through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia is wrapping up one of its top five warmest Marches on record. Numerous records have toppled, with some cities soaring into the 90s. Severe weather season is about to hit full force across the Deep South and Southeast. During the winter and early spring, severe thunderstorm and tornado chances come in punctuated bursts that are rather few and far between. But by April, that risk rises and expands into the Southern Plains and increases dramatically before swallowing traditional “Tornado Alley” across the central United States by May.