Governor Cooper issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting utility companies from cutting off service during the coronavirus public health crisis. The order also “strongly encourages” internet, phone, and cable companies to do the same, and asks that banks suspend overdraft fees.

“People should pay their bills, and the vast majority want to and do, but during this crisis, some just don’t have enough money,” Cooper said at a press conference. “These protections will help people stay in their homes and keep vital services going.” 

The order suspends all utility cut-offs for the next two months and gives customers with outstanding bills six months to pay them without accruing late fees, penalties, or interest. 

Additionally, the order urges phone, cable, and internet companies to follow the same guidelines and not cut off service to those who can’t pay their bills. Banks are being asked not to issue overdraft fees or other penalties during the crisis and to delay all eviction proceedings, including ones that began before the crisis.

As of Tuesday, more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in North Carolina, and eight residents have died. There are likely far more cases of COVID-19 than have been identified, health officials say, because of a lack of testing.

As state hospitals, short on supplies to treat coronavirus patients, brace for a surge in cases next month, Cooper said the best way for residents to combat the virus is to comply with the stay-at-home order that went into effect on Monday and to continue to practice social distancing.

“It’s vitally important that everyone take this order seriously and obey it. Don’t let your guard down. Staying home slows the spread of this illness,” Cooper said. “If we don’t slow the curve, slow the spread, and flatten the curve, our medical system will be stretched beyond its capacity.”

Restaurant and other business shutdowns have led to over 300,000 layoffs statewide, Cooper said, and 200,000 people have applied for unemployment. However, as was recently reported by the News & Observer, North Carolina has historically rejected nearly 90 percent of claims. Without receiving state unemployment benefits, those laid off might not have access to the $600-a-week federal benefit included in the recent $2 trillion economic rescue package. 

Asked what was being done to streamline the process, Cooper said officials are “working diligently to handle this onslaught of claims that they have really never seen before to make sure they get paid.”

Read the full executive order here:

Cooper Executive Order Stops Utility Shut Offs by Leigh Tauss on Scribd

Contact Raleigh editor Leigh Tauss at

DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.