North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce as early as Wednesday whether the state can move this weekend into Phase 2 of its three-phase reopening plan. On Monday, he said officials wanted “a couple more days” to look at the state’s coronavirus data.
Phase 2 would lift the state’s stay-at-home order and let some businesses like restaurants and bars reopen for in-person customers at a reduced capacity, according to the phased reopening plan Cooper announced April 23. The second phase would also reopen gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons and other “personal care” businesses, but require them to implement social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols.
State officials have said they’re watching several key indicators to determine whether the state can proceed into the next phase.
How Are North Carolina's Numbers?
One indicator officials said they are monitoring is the percentage of people who test positive for the coronavirus out of the total number tested. They want that number to decrease or level off. According to state data released Tuesday, over the past seven days, the percentage of positive tests was between 5% and 8% and the test positivity rate has remained level or decreased since the beginning of May.
State officials have also said they want to see a decrease or leveling in the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19. On Tuesday, North Carolina reported 585 hospitalizations -- the highest number since April 15. But State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said in general, hospitalizations have remained relatively level.
“With hospitalizations, because we do have a lot of hospital capacity, we’re trying to look at that in the context of, ‘Is our health system able to handle the number of cases?’ And the answer is overwhelmingly, ‘Yes,’” Cohen said Tuesday.
North Carolina also set goals of increasing its testing capacity to between 5,000 and 7,000 people per day and doubling its number of contact tracers from 250 to 500. For the past 14 days, it’s tested in that range all but one day. The state has partnered with Community Care of North Carolina to hire the 250 additional tracers. Thousands of people have applied but it’s unclear how many so far have been hired and trained.
What Can NC Learn From Neighboring States?
Georgia started reopening just over three weeks ago. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday the state, which has roughly the same population as North Carolina, had completed about 378,000 total coronavirus tests -- about 120,000 more than North Carolina. The state seems to have been hit harder by the virus -- it’s seen about 1,700 deaths compared to North Carolina’s 691. But preliminary data from the past 14 days show the number of confirmed coronavirus cases decreasing in Georgia.
South Carolina opened restaurants for limited dine-in customers last week, and gyms, barbershops and salons started allowing customers Monday. According to the state’s most recent numbers, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests out of the total number of tests seems to be decreasing. South Carolina has done about half the number of tests as North Carolina -- but is also roughly half its size in population.
It is early to extrapolate from these data since some restrictions were lifted this week, but so far it doesn’t seem that there’s been an explosion in new coronavirus cases that some feared in these early reopening states.
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