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Rep. Johnson endorses local authority to reopen business

State Rep. Jake Johnson State Rep. Jake Johnson

State Rep. Jake Johnson is endorsing requests by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and other local government bodies for the authority to decide how to reopen businesses at the end of the month.

In a letter he sent on Thursday, Johnson called on Gov. Roy Cooper to allow counties "to decide if, and to what extent, businesses can reopen" after the statewide stay-at-home order expires at the end of the month. Cooper has not said whether he plans to lift, extend or modify the order but has outlined conditions involving a level of testing, tracking and contact tracing that does not currently exist.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners wrote to Cooper on Tuesday seeking the authority to begin the process to reopen the local economy when the governor's Covid-related emergency orders expire.

“As a former county commissioner chair, I believe that these boards, county departments and county employees are well suited to know what is best for their individual communities," Johnson, who represents Polk, Henderson and Transylvania counties in the state House, told Cooper. "We need strategies that are tailored to each county’s unique situation and needs, as opposed to a one size fits all solution.”

“I believe that we are at a crossroads that will be looked at as a critical turning point in our state’s economic future," he added. "I do not believe that many of the businesses in our state, and the small businesses in particular, will be able to survive another month or more out of work.” His letter emphasizes the importance of getting the economy back on track and getting people back to work, especially given the length of time it is taking to administer relief programs.

The letter also points out that this is an effort to work with the governor and state agencies to open the economy, pointing out that many counties who are pushing for these measures would be willing to have a baseline of commonly agreed upon guidelines, including stay-at-home continuation for vulnerable populations, no national or international events or conferences, no large athletic events, and other bans.

In his letter, Johnson also highlights that the majority of commission chairs he has been in contact with would welcome weekly updates and suggested guidelines from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Furthermore, Johnson recommended that counties that do not feel comfortable assuming decision-making authority can defer to state suggested guidelines based on population and number of cases. He expects to see a lot of similarities in county policies throughout the region, he said.

Johnson predicts that most commission chairs across the state would not wish to end all social distancing and sanitation efforts immediately, but would like the ability roll back the guidelines gradually to allow businesses to get back to work in a safe and responsible manner.