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Mar 27, 2020

North Carolina General Assembly — Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

The McGuireWoods Consulting team in Raleigh continues to work diligently monitoring updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team continues our commitment to serve our clients to the best of our ability by working closely with state and local leaders to keep you up-to-date on what is happening across the state. We will continue to monitor all General Assembly meetings, state agencies, state and local press conferences, and anything else that impacts you. Follow us on Twitter @KeepnUpWJoneSt for regular updates from our team. 


North Carolina Governor Declares Statewide Shutdown

During this afternoon's COVID-19 press conference, Governor Roy Cooper issued a statewide 'state-at-home' order. The stay-at-home order directs all North Carolinians to remain in their homes unless they are performing essential services, such as taking care of others, obtaining necessary supplies, or other health and safety purposes. A number of municipalities across the state issued similar stay-at-home orders earlier this week. Gov. Cooper has said that where the state order differs from a local order; the more restrictive order will apply. Businesses that meet the definition of an essential business in Executive Order 121 will not need any documentation from the state to stay open. The statewide order will go into effect Monday, March 30 at 5 PM and will remain in effect for 30 days, through April 29. To view the full stay-at-home order for North Carolina, please click here.

Executive Order 121 highlights

Executive Order 121 permits the following businesses to remain open:

  • Restaurants that provide take-out, drive-thru, or delivery
  • Grocery stores
  • ABC stores and beer and wine stores
  • Doctors and other healthcare providers
  • Pharmacies
  • Hardware stores
  • Post offices
  • Office supply stores
  • Gas stations and convenience stores
  • Veterinarians and pet supply stores
  • Hotels, airlines, buses, taxis, and rideshare services
  • Places of worship
  • Child care providers (that are following the required NCDHHS procedures)

FAQS rel="noopener noreferrer" of the order can be found here. As always, the Raleigh McGuireWoods Consulting Team is here to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have. 


Community Kudos

Businesses across our state are going above and beyond the call of duty to ease the burden of this pandemic on our community. We would like to give kudos to some of our clients who are helping to make a difference during this time:

Uber

Food delivery service Uber Eats is supporting independent restaurant owners and operators as the hospitality industry faces unprecedented challenges amidst the COVID-19 emergency by waiving delivery fees.

In the recent announcement, Janelle Sallenave, head of Uber Eats for the U.S. and Canada, said, “We know the coming weeks will be challenging ones for many small business owners, and we want to help restaurants focus on food, not finances. That’s why we’re working to drive increased demand to more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the U.S. and Canada through free delivery and marketing efforts.”

Thanks, Uber Eats, for supporting our local restaurants.You can order delivery and takeout from your local restaurants by downloading their mobile app

Feeding the Carolinas 

A note from Mike Darrow, Executive Director of our client, Feeding the Carolinas:

“Our Food Banks are seeing an unprecedented increase in people needing food, compounded with a decrease in volunteers. We need both funds to purchase bulk food, and volunteers to help sort and pack. You can give to Feeding the Carolinas at our website, or you can give or volunteer at a food bank. 

Go to www.feedingthecarolinas.org/locations/ and find your food bank, where you can find links to Donate or Volunteer, and also a ‘Food Finder’ which takes you to their website where you can find local community food pantries/etc. 

We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors in the Carolinas – and much is needed as we navigate these uncharted waters. Thanks for your help!”

CVS Health

In recognition of the essential role CVS Health employees are playing as the country faces the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is awarding bonuses to employees who are required to be at CVS facilities to assist patients and customers in this time of unprecedented need. Bonuses will range from $150 to $500, and will be awarded to pharmacists, certain other health care professionals on the front lines, store associates and managers, and other site-based hourly employees.

“Our colleagues have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to providing essential goods and services at a time when they’re needed most,” said Larry J. Merlo, President and CEO of CVS Health. “As they continue to be there for the individuals and families we serve, we’re taking extra steps to provide some peace of mind and help them navigate these uncertain times.”

CVS Health is also embarking on the most ambitious hiring drive in the company’s history, with plans to immediately fill 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary roles across the country. Roles include store associates, home delivery drivers, distribution center employees and member/customer service professionals. The company will utilize a technology-enabled hiring process that includes virtual job fairs, virtual interviews and virtual job tryouts. Many roles will be filled by existing CVS Health clients who have had to furlough workers, including Hilton and Marriott.

An influx of talent will help manage capacity for existing employees, who will also benefit from the following changes:

CVS Health will launch a new offering to help employees with both child and elder or adult dependent care needs. Working with the Bright Horizons network of national in-home and center-based daycare providers, employees will be able to take advantage of up to 25 fully covered days of backup care. This benefit will begin in early April for both full- and part-time employees.

Full-time CVS Health employees have always had access to paid sick leave. Effective March 22, CVS Health has made 24 hours of paid sick leave available to part-time employees for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This paid sick leave is in addition to the 14-day paid leave the company is providing for any employee who tests positive for COVID-19 or needs to be quarantined as a result of potential exposure.

Employee safety has been a focus for CVS Health from the start, and the company has been prioritizing distribution of protective gear to the hardest-hit areas.

“The health and wellbeing of our colleagues has always come first. We’ve been working around the clock to increase availability of supplies and update protocols to ensure our stores are safe for colleagues and customers alike,” Merlo stated.

Thank you, CVS Health, for being a community leader on the front lines of fighting this pandemic.

North Carolina Academy of Physcian Assistants 

North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants (NCAPA) is the professional group that supports physician assistants (PAs) in North Carolina. PAs are working across the state addressing needs during the COVID-19 outbreak.  PA Ginger Sims worked to help set up a drive through a testing center in Thomasville, which you can read about here. PA Dan Lynam has been working in the Outer Banks, coordinating PAs who are willing to help in the hospital system when needed.  NCAPA is recruiting PA volunteers through the NC Training- Exercise- Response Management System (NC TERMS) and are hearing from PAs who are signing up across the state.

NCAPA President Alisha DeTroye, PA-C shares, “Many physician assistants (PAs) are on the front lines providing direct patient care in health care systems and in rural settings across the state. PAs are key members of health care teams that are running drive through testing centers, staffing emergency departments and ICUs, and working as primary care providers. PAs are uniquely positioned and trained to meet those needs as flexible and versatile clinicians ready to step in for a sick colleague or fill other unmet needs."

Thank you to NCAPA and all the PAs who are putting themselves on the line to protect their fellow North Carolinians.

Alliance Health

“As the managed care organization for publicly funded behavioral health services for a population of 1.8 million in central North Carolina, Alliance Health is working hard to ensure that our provider network has a robust set of tools to enable them to support our health plan members during the COVID-19 emergency,” said Alliance CEO Rob Robinson.

“We are collaborating closely with NC DHHS and our providers to enhance opportunities for telehealth and telepsychiatry, and Alliance will implement a provider stabilization program to help ensure the financial viability of our providers during a time when many of them face tremendous strain due to this unprecedented public health emergency.”

Thank you, Alliance Health, for making critical telehealth services a reality for so many North Carolinians.


Local Shelter In Place orders

As of March 26, 2020 at 5:00 PM, the following counties or towns have issued stay- at-home or “shelter in place” orders. Most municipalities and counties have followed Cyberstructure and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) federal guidelines within the order. Those orders follow federal guidelines for critical workers such as healthcare professionals, law enforcement, public safety personal, first responders, carry-out and food delivery, and workers essential to maintain  critical public infrastructure. Additionally, each municipality must operate under Governor Cooper's recent Executive Order, EO 120 on mass gatherings and essential businesses. 

Counties and municipalities currently adhering to CISA standards include Buncombe County/Asheville (Order), Cabarrus County (Order), Durham County/Durham (Order), Forsyth County/Winston-Salem (Order), Gaston County (Order), Guilford County/Greensboro/High Point (Revised Order), Mecklenburg County/Charlotte (Order), Pitt County (Order), Town of Beaufort (Order), Wake County/ Raleigh (Order), Village of Clemmons (Order).

Other county and municipal orders that at present do not closely follow CISA guidance as closely include Orange County/Chapel Hill (order), Dare County (Restricted Entry Order), and Madison County (Shelter In Place PSA).

These orders are subject to change. 


House Select Committee on Covid-19, Education Working group 

The first House Select Committee on COVID-19, Education Working group met Thursday, March 26th. The group is chaired by Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), Rep. John Fraley (R-Iredell), and Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons (D-Guilford). The working group appointed by Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), is tasked with finding solutions for school district funding, calendar flexibility, employee pay, safety measures, and drafting legislation to address to COVID-19 crisis. On March 14, Gov. Cooper announced E.O. 117 which ordered that all K-12 public schools, including charter schools (which are also public), must close to students. The group met via video conferencing software, marking the General Assembly's temporary  shift to virtual meetings in order to practice social distancing. The chairs reminded the group that all member questions must be submitted through the chat function on the video conference, and all public comments shall be submitted through the portal.

The group heard an update on actions taken by Gov. Cooper to address COVID-19’s impact on education, overviews of actions taken by the State Board of Education related to COVID-19, and an update on the legislative impact of Federal testing waivers. 


Overview of actions taken by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to address COVID-19's impact on education

Geoff Coltrane, Senior Education Advisor to Gov. Cooper, gave a presentation on Allotment and Public School Budget Flexibility. Coltrane reiterated that the Governor has taken a number of significant actions to mitigate this crisis, such as closing K-12 public schools, limiting nursing home visits, and encouraging people to stay at home. Governor Cooper directed $50 million in school funding flexibility to help public and non-virtual charter schools serve students and employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the State Board of Education (SBE) will work together to ensure the allotments are coded and properly spent by districts. Legislators stressed the importance of ensuring that every student has broadband during the extended online learning period. Gov. Cooper has moved the school closing date to May 15th, but remains hopefully that students will be able to return to school before the academic year ends. The funds can also be used for nutrition services, expanding online learning, and cleaning school property.


Overview of actions taken by the SBE related to COVID-19

Freebird McKinney, Director of Legislative Affairs and Community Outreach at the SBE, followed Coltrane by updating the group on what the State Board is doing to help students and teachers. Currently, the Board is exploring options to waive the issuance of A-F grades, mitigating the risk of schools being placed into the Innovate School District. They are also looking at options for school calendar flexibility for both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years, and expanding broadband access to rural counties. Members raised particular concerns about students who do not have access to broadband. Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) suggested that while the state figured out how to expand access, citizens should visit the state's broadband website to see what services are eligible to them.


Update on Legislative Impact of Federal Testing Waivers

The SBE and DPI requested, and were granted, a waiver for federal testing Monday, March 23. The General Assembly is not required by law to waive either these assessments or final exams. Legislators have raised concerns that the lack of testing could impact principal bonuses and school performance grades. The group chose to wait for action from the SBE and to continue to discuss the appropriate legislative action. The complete presentation can be seen here.


House Select Committee on COVID-19, Healthcare Working Group 

The healthcare industry has arguably been the hardest-hit industry by this crisis. The COVID-19 Healthcare Working group convened virtually to hear a presentation  from the North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) as well as a report from the North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS).The group met specifically to discuss hospitals and their access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Speaker Moore (R-Cleveland) reminded the committee to keep rural hospitals in mind as they were struggling before the pandemic. 

NCHA updated the group on the constantly-changing situation across the state. Hospitals have put special provisions in place, such as no visitors except for special circumstances, deferral of non-time-sensitive surgeries, expanded telehealth services and drive-through options for testing. Hospitals around the state and nation are facing shortages of PPE such as masks, gloves, gowns, and shoe covers. If the Federal government were to distribute PPE, North Carolina would fall behind other states like Washington and New York due to the increased demand in those states. The NCHA made the following legislative requests: 

  • Legislation allowing Medicaid eligibility expansion to provide COVID-19 testing for uninsured individuals as allowed by Families First Coronavirus Act. 
  • Emergency Medicaid rate increases funded via the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages increase.
  • Creation of a fund at the state level to help financially distressed
    hospitals during the emergency period.
  • Relief of regulatory burdens, such as regularly-scheduled inspections of medical facilities that are regularly scheduled and not a matter of urgency. 
  • Work with teaching institutions to ensure medical and healthcare profession students can complete clinical hours outside of hospital.

NCMS reported to the committee that they have been working closely with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as well as NC Emergency Management to assist the needs of physicians, physician assistants, and other healthcare providers. The report outlines the continued spread of COVID-19 and the urgent need for more PPE. NCMS stressed the need to get supplies out to smaller practices around the state, and the importance of ensuring that front line healthcare workers and their families are protected. Legislators reassured presenters that they will continue to work on legislative solutions to ensure proper protection, cash flow, and distribution of supplies. 


COVID-19 Federal Stimulus Package

The word of this week: unprecedented. Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate proved they are no exception. Members of the Senate passed H.R. 748: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, one of the most expensive stimulus packages the United States has ever seen. The CARES Act, passed by a unanimous vote, sent a more than $2 trillion package over to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote, which is expected to take place today. One of the most talked-about provisions of the bill provides one-time lump payments directly to Americans. Individuals earning $75,000 or less annually, or $150,000 for married couples, will receive a direct payment of $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a couple. That number gradually decreases as annual incomes increase. An additional $500 is available for each dependent child.

Aside from direct payments, the CARES Act provides crucial funding to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus while also trying to curb the economic effects of a global pandemic. The big question for most is where this money is going and what is it going to do to help. In a 883 page bill, this can be a tough question to answer, especially for our states and local governments. Here we help decipher some of the key appropriations and provisions for North Carolinians to look for.

Emergency Management

The CARES Act establishes a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and local governments to help cover the costs of COVID-19 related expenditures beginning March 1, 2020 and ending December 30, 2020. Based on the formulas used to distribute the funding, the National Conference for State Legislators estimates that North Carolina could receive over $4 billion from this fund alone. $45 billion will be allocated to the Disaster Relief Fund to immediately send money to state and local governments, along with an additional share of the $25 billion allocated for states that have declared major disasters. The bill also includes $1 billion to go towards implementing the Defense Production Act in order to ramp up production and increase access to much-needed materials. Additionally, $1.4 billion will be provided to fund the deployment of the National Guard in each state. The funding allows for the National Guard’s presence in each state for six months and gives discretionary authority to each state’s Governor.

Health and Human Services

The Strategic National Stockpile will receive a $16 billion infusion to be used in the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. $100 billion of the funding provided to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund will go towards providing grants to hospitals and other public and non-profit entities of the like. Under the CARES Act, health plans will be required to cover the cost of coronavirus testing, and Medicare coverage will be extended to include the cost of home health care expenses. Through the Health Resources and Services Administration, $275 million will go towards expanding telehealth services and rural hospital service capacity. Expanding telehealth services and rural health service capacity will done by streamlining the current telehealth grant program to make it easier to buy the equipment that is needed to get services up and running. Of the funding provided to the Administration for Children and Families, $3.5 billion will go towards the Child Care and Development Block Grant to help provide some relief to childcare providers. Additional funding will also go towards the Community Services Block Grant to help fund the work of local organizations providing emergency services to their high-need community members.

Unemployment

As the number of workers around the country watching their job disappear has increased, the federal government has authorized a series of unemployment insurance expansion measures through the CARES Act. The bill extends the duration of coverage under unemployment insurance to up to 39 weeks. In addition to current state and federal unemployment insurance benefits, workers will be eligible to receive an additional $600 per week. This expanded version of unemployment insurance coverage will also include coverage for self-employed, part-time, contract and gig economy workers, such as ride share drivers and food delivery workers. The CARES Act’s unemployment insurance provisions will benefit countless North Carolinians as record numbers apply for unemployment every day.

Business

One of the largest appropriations in the bill will go toward creating a $500 billion fund to provide loans to states, municipalities, and businesses. The bill will also provide $1.5 billion to the Economic Development Administration to help kick-start local communities’’ economies in the wake of the pandemic. An additional $5 billion will be allocated for the Community Development Block Grant program. States and municipalities will be eligible for the program and the dollars will help fund the expansion of community health facilities, childcare centers, and food banks. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will receive $10 billion to fund emergency grants up to $10,000. These grants will be used to help provide relief to small businesses struggling to manage their current operating costs. In addition, $17 billion will be given to the SBA to cover six months’ worth of payments for businesses who currently have outstanding SBA loans. Employers could also be eligible for an employee retention tax credit if they are required to close because of the pandemic.

Education

The CARES Act establishes a $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund to help cover the costs incurred by local school districts and institutions of higher education across the country. Local educational agencies will receive funding to assist in their pandemic response efforts, such as long-term school closure planning work, the purchasing of online educational tools, and technology. $13.5 billion of the Education Stabilization Fund will go toward this effort alone, and will be allocated on a population-based formula grant. The Governor of each state will also receive a portion of a separate $3 billion fund to provide emergency support grants at their own discretion.

Transportation

The CARES Act will provide aid to the airline industry, one of the first industries hard hit by the spread of the coronavirus. The bill provides $10 billion in grants to air carriers to help maintain operations as global air travel has come to a halt. An additional $3 billion will go toward supporting airline contractors during this time as well. However, the majority of the funding for the airline industry comes through $25 billion in grants and another $25 billion in loans. The CARES Act provides support for transit systems nationwide. $25 billion will go toward helping the country's transit systems cover operating costs while travelers stay home. States will be able to collect a share of the $1 billion appropriation to Amtrak to help cover the state-matching requirements for continued operations of the long-distance routes that run through the area. 

For a full breakdown of what is in the CARES Act, check out this summary and the supplemental appropriations summary by our Washington, D.C. McGuireWoods Consulting team.