North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that the state will transition to a modified version of Phase 2 of his three-phase reopening plan from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
Phase 2 will begin Friday at 5 p.m., and while it officially lifts the stay-at-home order, Cooper said he is calling this phase “safer at home” because not all data reflects that the spread of COVID-19 in the state has slowed significantly enough.
“'Safer at home' means just what it says – just because you can go more places doesn’t mean you always should,” Cooper said.
The phase allows for dine-in service at restaurants, but limits patrons to 50% of the building capacity. Close-contact businesses such as hair salons and barbers also can open, with a 50% limit on customers. The limitations on the number of people allowed to gather has been raised to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.
However, gyms, indoor fitness facilities, bars and public playgrounds and entertainment venues will remain closed, Cooper said. His original Phase 2 called for those places to open, with restrictions.
While the test-positivity rate has declined and hospitalizations from the coronavirus remains stable, the overall number of cases continues to increase.
“We need to move in a more cautious way,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said. “Our rise in case count indicate we need to take a more modest step than we would have originally planned. We need to be incredibly vigilant to slow the spread of the virus.”
Of note, Cooper said that worship services are exempt from this order. However, social distancing measures still are encouraged for any religious service, and the state has a list of recommendations for people in meetings and worship services.
"I hope congregations and leaders throughout North Carolina will think twice about what they’re doing, will look at these recommendations and follow them for the health and safety of their members," Cooper said. "I believe most of them will."
A federal judge ruled Saturday that Cooper's restrictions on worship services could be blocked temporarily, and Cooper said he would not appeal that decision.
Phase 1, which began Friday, May 8, allowed for more nonessential businesses to reopen, though the stay-at-home order still was in effect, and people were encouraged to telework when possible.
Phase 3 is slated to begin 4-6 weeks after Phase 2, and allows for increased capacities in restaurants and other businesses, along with a further increase in the number of people permitted to gather.
All three phases call for rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and congregate living facilities.
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