Trump approves disaster declaration for North Carolina amid coronavirus outbreak

A major disaster exists in North Carolina because of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday night, a day after Gov. Roy Cooper requested the disaster designation.

The action opens federal funding to state, tribal, eligible local governments and certain nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, according to the White House and FEMA.

North Carolina has more than 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus and reported its first deaths from the virus on Wednesday. The number of confirmed cases reported by the state and county governments is lower than the actual total, the state’s epidemiologist said.

Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina on March 10, and Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. Cooper has not called for a statewide “stay in place” order, but several counties in the state have or have indicated they will.

Cooper, in his request, asked for individual assistance to those affected, including crisis counseling, disaster unemployment assistance and Small Business Administration assistance, according to his office.

“It’s important that we help North Carolinians stay protected from the health impacts of COVID-19 and recover economically from the financial impacts this crisis is having on our state,” Cooper said in a statement.

The FEMA release for North Carolina does not mention crisis counseling. In other states that have had their declarations approved, crisis counseling is specifically mentioned. Trump approved disaster declarations for Florida, Louisiana, Iowa and Texas in the last two days. California, Washington and New York have also had their declarations approved.

Most of the state’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Trump asking him to approve the request. Rep. Alma Adams sent a second letter signed by more than 15 members of the General Assembly and other elected officials from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. Mecklenburg has 170 cases, as of March 25, the highest in the state.

“Over 80,000 North Carolinians applied for unemployment insurance last week, far exceeding the typical weekly average. Many workers in local industries, from motorsports to mom and pop shops, do not currently qualify for many forms of federal aid, but would under a major disaster declaration,” Rep. Adams said in a statement.

Gracia B. Szczech, a FEMA administrator, was named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the state.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or