Gov. Roy Cooper says the state can start the first part of a three-phase reopening plan Friday evening — but that doesn't mean North Carolina's stay-at-home order will be lifted immediately.
Many retailers closed as "nonessential" to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state will be able to reopen at 5 p.m. Friday provided they limit customers to 50% capacity, and the state is encouraging any shuttered parks to reopen. But high-contact businesses like salons and gyms will have to stay closed until at least May 22. That's the earliest possible start for the second phase, which would lift the stay-at-home order, allow restaurants to resume dine-in services and allow for larger gatherings such as indoor worship services.
Cooper said efforts to "flatten the curve" in North Carolina have been working but that lifting all restrictions at once "would cause a surge of new cases" leading to more hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
In the first phase, people will be allowed to go out for "nonessential" reasons, like shopping, and gatherings of 10 or more people will still be prohibited. Employers would still be encouraged to let people work from home.
As of Tuesday morning, the state Health and Human Services department was reporting 12,256 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 452 deaths related to COVID-19. It's taken about 18 days for the number of cases confirmed by laboratory testing to double. That "doubling rate" has been slowly getting longer -- something epidemiologists generally say is a sign that social distancing efforts are working.
Cooper has previously said "rigorous restrictions" on nursing homes and other congregant-care facilities would stay in place throughout all three phases.
About 41% of North Carolinians confirmed to have the coronavirus are between the ages of 25-49, while about 86% of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 complications were 65 and older.
Fifty-eight percent of the North Carolinians who have died from COVID-19 complications were residents of congregant living facilities — the majority in nursing homes.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Tuesday that while the overall number of positive cases has been rising, the percentage of positive results to total tests performed is declining.
"We're not perfect, but we're stable," Cohen said.
There have been several "reopen North Carolina" protests in Raleigh -- and some smaller ones in the Charlotte area -- in recent weeks calling for a quicker end to social distancing restrictions and business closures. More than 1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment benefits since March 17, when Cooper's COVID-19 restrictions began with a halt to dine-in services at restaurants.
A negative turn in trends could lead to restrictions being lengthened, but Cooper said "we're hopeful" that Phase 2 could start May 22.
"Phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can give people safe opportunities to socialize and boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety restrictions in place," Cooper said. "We can only boost our economy when people have confidence in their safety."
You can read Cooper's full order on Phase 1 here.
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