Governor Roy Cooper took action to address the spread of COVID-19 by issuing stronger social distancing requirements and speeding up the process to get benefits to people out of work through Executive Order No. 131.
Three key areas are addressed in the order. The first requires retail stores that are still operating to implement new social distancing policies to make shopping safer for customers and employees. The second makes earlier COVID-19 guidelines mandatory for nursing facilities, and recommends other long-term care facilities to do the same. The third area is unemployment benefits, issuing changes that will speed up certain benefit payments to those who are out of work.
“North Carolina continues to take strong action to slow the spread of COVID-19, and today’s order will help make stores safer, protect those living and working in nursing homes, and get more unemployment benefits out quicker. Our state is resilient, and we will get through this crisis together if we all do our part,” said Cooper.
Policies for social distancing in retail stores
The Order offers clear requirements that essential businesses must implement in order to safeguard the health of customers and employees. Some of the directives include:
• Setting limits of how many people can be in a store at one time, 5 people per 1,000 square feet of retail space or 20% of fire marshal posted occupancy limits
• Marking 6 feet of distance for areas where people gather like checkout lines
• Requiring specific cleaning measures for retail stores
The Order encourages:
• Implementing hygiene recommendations for employees and customers, like hand sanitizer at the doors and face coverings for workers
• Establishing designated shopping times designated for high-risk groups
• Creating barriers between customers and employees at checkout to lower the risk of required interactions
Creating barriers between customers and employees at checkout to lower the risk of required interactions
The Order states these requirements will last for 30 days unless extended by further executive action.
Lowering risk in long-term care facilities
The Order sets public health and safety requirements for nursing homes during the public health emergency. The Order encourages other long-term care facilities to follow the same guidance. Some of the directives include:
• Canceling communal activities, including group meals
• Taking the temperature of employees and essential personnel when they enter the facility
• Requiring specific personal protective equipment in the facility
• Requiring close monitoring of residents for COVID-19 health indicators like body temperature
The Order states these requirements will last until this order is repealed.
Streamlining unemployment insurance claims
The Order makes it easier for employers to file a batch of claims, called an attached claim, on behalf of their employees. By temporarily eliminating some of the hurdles for employers, benefits can get in the hands of those who need them faster.
The Order will extend 60 days beyond the date the state of emergency is lifted to allow employers to recover.
Additionally, the Department of Employment Services issued information on timing of federal benefits reaching North Carolinians.
DES working to implement Federal Unemployment Assistance Programs; Additional $600 payments expected soon
The Division of Employment Security is moving quickly to bring additional unemployment insurance benefits to North Carolinians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. DES has received official guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to implement the three federal unemployment programs included in the CARES Act.
DES is working as quickly as possible to modify its technology systems to make sure people can apply for these benefits and receive timely, accurate payments. Individuals due any benefits prior to the full implementation of these programs will be paid retroactively.
DES intends to implement the federal programs in this order:
1. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). This program provides an additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits to eligible claimants. DES is currently testing the payment system and anticipates making the first payments by April 17, 2020.
2. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program provides unemployment compensation for individuals not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, such as independent contractors and self-employed workers, and those who have exhausted any extensions to unemployment insurance.
DES estimates online filing system will be ready to accept claims for this assistance program around April 25, 2020.
3. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This program provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits for those who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. As a timeline for this program is available, DES will update the public on when online claims will be accepted.
Updates about eligibility and how to apply for these benefits will be provided on des.nc.gov.
Since March 16, 2020, the Division of Employment Security has received nearly 500,000 claims for unemployment benefits, with most of them related to COVID-19. Prior to March 16, 2020, DES received approximately 3,000 claims a week.