361 Days Later, NC’s New Normal(ish)

Cooper relaxes COVID restrictions + Biden makes Berger an offer he shouldn’t refuse + Wake County’s got potholes + thoughts and prayers + it was aliens

Wed., March 24, 2021

Happy Wednesday. On Friday evening, many of the state’s COVID restrictions go away. We’ll also talk Medicaid, gun violence, and UFOs. A weird mix today.

Today’s Number: 29

Mass shootings with four or more fatalities in the United States since 2016. (Source: The Violence Project)


1. North Carolina Is Finally (Sorta) Open for Business

On March 27, 2020, citing the 763 cases of COVID-19 that had been diagnosed in North Carolina, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 121—the stay-at-home order —which took effect on March 30 and has, to one degree or another, constrained our movements ever since.

On March 23, 2021, almost exactly a year later, he issued EO 204. It’s not quite a “go back to normal” order—the mask mandate is still there—but it’s leaning in that direction.

  • The mass gathering limit is increased to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.

  • Retail stores, personal care businesses, and museums can go to full capacity.

  • Restaurants and breweries can go to full capacity outside, 75% inside.

  • Gyms, bowling alleys, yoga studios, etc., can also go to 75%.

  • Bars, lounges, and nightclubs can go to 50% “subject to masks and 6-ft. social distancing.”

  • Same for live music venues, auditoriums, conferences, and indoor movie theaters and gaming facilities.

  • The alcohol curfew is going away.

  • Normalish starts on March 26 at 5 p.m.

  • Details here.

Here’s the rationale:

  • “Across the state, there have been fewer COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths since a post-holiday surge. [DHHS Secretary Mandy] Cohen said North Carolina is seeing metrics decrease among hospitalizations and percent of visits to the emergency department for COVID-like symptoms, while metrics for positive tests are beginning to level off.” (N&O)


  • On Monday morning, AstraZeneca announced that its COVID vaccine clinical trials had produced positive results. A few hours later, in a letter to federal officials, a bunch of experts accused the company of cherry-picking data to make its vaccine look better. Then, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued its own statement “[urging] the company to … review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible.” (NYT)

2. Will We Finally Expand Medicaid?

I mentioned yesterday that, to take advantage of the incentives packed into the American Rescue Plan Act, the hippie communes of Alabama and Wyoming are considering expanding Medicaid. North Carolina Health News takes a smart look at whether we’ll follow suit. The answer: 🤷‍♂️

  • “In the past year, countless numbers of North Carolina workers have lost their jobs, and their health coverage with it, because of the pandemic. That’s made the issue of expansion that much more urgent, as the probable number of people who would benefit from the policy has climbed [from 500,000].”

  • The [ARPA] incentive for states to add people onto their Medicaid rolls doesn’t come with adding extra dollars to pay for the expansion population, many of whom are low-income workers who are likely healthier than many of the traditional Medicaid adults—people with disabilities, low-income seniors, people who are blind. Instead, the ARP’s incentive is to pay more for those more expensive people.”

  • “An estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that for North Carolina, that boost to the bottom line would be about $1.7 billion overall, while the cost to the state would be about a half-billion dollars a year, a net gain of as much as $1.2 billion for the state.”

  • “NC Health News asked for comment from the offices of Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) but has not received a response.”


  • Guess we’re doing this again: Republican lawmakers have introduced the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which limits participation in women’s sports to women as defined by biological sex rather than gender identity. In other words, no transgender girls—because boys are definitely going to pretend to be girls so they can rack up state records in, like, track and field or whatever, that’s how high school works. (W-S Journal)

3. Wake’s Got a Pothole Problem

Lots of rain plus raising temperatures equal saturated roads, which lead to more potholes. The NCDOT says that more than twice as many Wake County drivers reported damage from potholes to the state in 2020 as in 2019. But fewer drivers are reporting potholes that aren’t damaging their cars.

4. So Can We Ban Assault Rifles Now?

As soon as I saw news of the shooting in Boulder on Monday night, this inevitable, grotesque Onion headline-turned-meme—which has its own Wikipedia entry, a perverse commentary in itself—popped into my head.

We deserve its judgment.

We shrugged our thoughts and prayers after 60 were gunned down in Las Vegas, after 49 were gunned down in Orlando, after 20 children were gunned down in Sandy Hook. Why would 10 shoppers in Oregon be any different? For that matter, why would eight spa workers and customers in Atlanta?

If past is prologue, this mass shooting will arouse a few days of promises that THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT before falling into a memory hole.

On Monday night, a 21-year-old named Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa allegedly killed 10 people in a boulder grocery store. He was shot in the leg and taken to the hospital. Police haven’t released any info about a motive. The 10 victims are:

  • Denny Stong, 20

  • Neven Stanisic, 23

  • Rikki Olds, 25

  • Tralona Bartkowiak, 49

  • Suzanne Fountain, 59

  • Teri Leiker, 51

  • Boulder police officer Eric Talley, 51

  • Kevin Mahoney, 61

  • Lynn Murray, 62

  • Jody Waters, 65

Boulder instituted an assault weapons ban in 2018, but it was blocked by a Boulder County District Court judge 10 days before the rampage.

  • The suspect allegedly purchased a Ruger AR-556, an AR-15-style pistol, on March 16.

  • “Weapons like the Ruger AR-556 pistol include a stabilizing brace that helps the operator secure the weapon to their forearm for one-handed firing, like a typical pistol. But the brace can also just be used to shoulder the rifle like a regular stock, as shown in videos, making the pistol functionally identical to the rifle.” (WaPo)

  • The NRA cheered the judge’s ruling.

President Biden called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills already passed by the House as well as to reinstate an assault weapons ban.

  • The only way any of that might—might—happen is if Democrats kill the filibuster. Or, as Mitch McConnell calls it, “Kentucky’s veto.”

  • Background checks might get to 50, but 60 is a stretch. Sen. Joe Manchin says he opposes the House version because it doesn’t have a big enough carve-out for private sales between people who know each other. He and Sen. Pat Toomey have previously sponsored legislation that would require background checks on commercial sales, which Sen. Susan Collins supports.

  • However, Collins and Toomey won’t kill the filibuster to make that happen. No Republicans who have joined the Senate since 2013 have indicated any inclination to moderate on guns.

  • With bodies still warm, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Cancun, called the prospect of new gun restrictions “ridiculous theater,” while QAnon fruitcake Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents Colorado, said now is not the time “to advance a political agenda.”


  • Remember Raleigh native Sidney Powell, the “Kraken” lawyer who was definitely going to prove that Trump had the election stolen from him? After being slapped with a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion, she now argues that “reasonable people would not accept [her] statements as fact.” Which, in its own way, is correct. (CNN)

5. We’re About to Learn a Lot About UFOs

As it turns out, the spending/stimulus bill Donald Trump signed at the end of December had a buried provision requiring the director of national intelligence to work with the secretary of defense to release “everything the government knows” about “unidentified aerial phenomena”—i.e., UFOs—by June.

Trump’s last DNI John Ratcliffe—fair warning: a bit of an unhinged conspiracy theorist—says it’s going to be wild.

  • “There are instances where we don’t have good explanations for some of the things that we’ve seen,” Ratcliffe told Fox News. “And when that information becomes declassified, I’ll be able to talk a little bit more about that.”

  • Ratcliffe: “We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

  • WaPo: “However, two factors might delay the report’s release: agencies have missed similar congressional reporting deadlines in the past; and the provision is not technically binding, as the language was included in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the bill, not the bill itself.”