North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that NASCAR teams can work in race shops as an essential business, provided their employees maintain social distancing guidelines and local governments don’t have different restrictions, allowing the sport to move closer to resuming its season as early as next month.
He also said public health officials were examining a proposal for NASCAR to race in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans.
Gov. Cooper made the comments during a media briefing Thursday where he announced that the state’s stay-at-home order had been extended to May 8. The stay-at-home order, which began March 30, was to have ended April 29.
Asked about about whether teams could work in their shops, Gov. Cooper said:
“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they can begin working in their garages as an essential business as defined under our executive order. (Teams) are still in contact with local health departments. Local governments may have some different health restrictions.”
Asked about about the possibility of Charlotte Motor Speedway hosting the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Cooper said:
“I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners, they have come forward with a plan to try to protect their employees, a proposal that there would be no fans in the stands. Right now our public health officials are examining their proposals and they’re also talking to local governments there, their (shops) are in several counties around Charlotte, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg about how they would run their (shops) and to get the cars ready, they need a couple of weeks ahead of time. We’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon after we’ve had more conversations with public health officials and with NASCAR officials.”
Since Sunday, five North Carolina state senators, the state’s Speaker of the House in the General Assembly and the state treasurer have all asked Gov. Cooper to allow NASCAR to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend without fans.
NASCAR has looked at resuming the Cup season May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said during a meeting Thursday of South Carolina business leaders that Darlington Raceway was scheduled to host a NASCAR race soon, according to The State newspaper.
The reason NASCAR seeks to resume in mid-May at Darlington is because the South Carolina track is about a two-hour drive from many shops. That would allow teams to go to the speedway and return home without needing to stay at a hotel and risk any chance of COVID-19 infection.
“I think it’s really critical to have (races) within driving distance” of race shops, car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports. “It’s all about being smart and being cautious and being aware of everyone around you.”
Gov. Cooper’s decision Thursday comes as governors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have announced this week plans to ease restrictions in those states by the end of the month.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday morning that the state has had 7,608 confirmed COVID-19 cases out of 96,185 completed tests. There are 486 people in North Carolina hospitalized with the coronavirus and 253 have died.
Gov. Cooper defended his decision to extend the stay-at-home order by saying: “I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals, and easing those restrictions now will do that.”
Among the data cited for the extension was the trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days. The Governor wants to see a decrease or sustained leveling of the number of lab-confirmed cases. That continues to increase. He also wants to see a decrease in the percentage of positive tests, which continues to increase at a slow rate. He seeks to see a decrease or sustained leveling of hospitalizations, which has had a slight trend upward.
Other factors include a desire to be able to test 5,000-7,000 a day, to hire 250 additional people to trace COVID-19 cases and have a 30-day supply of gowns and N95 masks, which the state does not have.
“I know the people in our state are eager to move forward and we will get there,” Gov. Cooper.
We need to slow the virus before we can ease restrictions, so today I’m extending the Stay At Home order until May 8. This includes continued closure of dine-in restaurants, bars & close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons, movie theaters & others in Executive Order 120.
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) April 23, 2020