North Carolina will enter Phase Two of Governor Roy Cooper's reopening plan at 5 PM Friday (May 22nd). Cooper made the announcement during a briefing Wednesday afternoon. This will end the “Stay at Home” order and begin what’s being called “Safer at Home.”
“Safer at Home is just what it says. Just because you can go more places doesn't mean you always should,” Cooper said. “We need to take a cautious approach to do this in the right way and to keep our curve flat so we don’t encourage the spread of this virus.”
Restrictions during Phase Two will still be more conservative than originally anticipated, and it may last longer than expected. Phase Three won’t begin for at least another five weeks.
One reason for the scaling back or delaying loosening restrictions is that North Carolina's daily count of new positive cases has continued to increase.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services followed Cooper's announcement of the beginning of Phase Two with a word of caution: “Our rising case counts indicate we need to take a more cautious approach than initially planned. Last weekend, we saw our highest single day increase, with 853 new cases in one day. Those day-to-day counts are continuing to increase, which is why we want to take a more modest approach.
The public gathering limit during Phase Two will remain at 10 people for indoor events, but increase to 25 for outdoors. The limit for outdoor gatherings also applies to groups congregating in public parks, so that no one group gathered at a park can exceed 25. That part of the restrictions effectively prohibits
festivals, parades or fairs.
Under Phase Two:
• Restaurants will be able to offer inside dining, but only at 50 percent capacity with 6 feet of spacing between customers sitting at another table.
• Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors will also be held to 50 percent capacity. Workers will be required to wear face masks.
• Gyms, bars, theaters, entertainment venues, and playgrounds still won't be able to reopen.
• Sporting events will only be allowed with no more than 25 spectators, and that for outdoor events; indoors, the limit is still 10. Coaches, athletes, performers and those involved in putting on the event are exempt from the cap.
• Swimming pools will be restricted to 50 percent capacity. The mass gathering limit does not apply to pools.
• Retail stores will also be limited to 50 percent capacity, or 12 people per 1,000 square feet.
• Summer day camps and overnight camps and child care facilities will be able to operate within certain safety guidelines. The mass gathering limit does not apply to them.
The limit on mass gatherings does not apply to activities where people stay in their own vehicles, such as drive-in movies, drive-in church, or the drive-by graduations being planned for some high schools.
Religious services are also exempt from the cap on public gatherings, but Cooper asked churches to “think twice” about what they decide to do: “The vast majority for congregations across North Carolina are doing the right things to protect their members and we think they will keep doing that,” Cooper said.
Weddings and funerals are also exempt from the cap on mass gatherings.
Cohen again urged the public to observe the three W's--wear a cover over your nose and mouth, wait six feet apart from others while shopping, and wash your hands thoroughly and often.
While the daily count of new positive cases has continued to rise, the percentage of positive tests has remained a 7-8 percent for the last two weeks. The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has remained around 500. That's about 50 more than a month ago, but still not growing substantially, and it appears that hospitals will continue to be able to handle any cases that occur.
Among those anxious for the reopening of their businesses under Phase Two was barber Rex Rhyne. "My phone has been ringing constantly," he told us. Rhyne said he plan to reopen at 5 PM Friday "as soon as Phase Two begins."
Some restaurants may reopen their dining rooms this weekend, but others will likely wait. Court Street Grille had no plans to reopen to indoor dining Friday or Saturday but will continue to offer take-out food.