Day visitors to Ocracoke on Wednesday don their colorful face coverings when entering Ride the Wind Surf Shop and Ocracoke Island Trading. Photo: C. Leinbach

From our news services

Noting that COVID-19 was still a serious threat in North Carolina, Gov Cooper announced today that the state can move into a modified Phase 2 reopening at 5 p.m. Friday.

Several key indicators show a slowing down of the virus except for new cases, which have shown an increase due to increased testing.

This increase in cases prompted Cooper to “take a more modest step forward in phase two than originally envisioned.”

That means restaurants may open for indoor seating at 50% capacity and may have outdoor seating, he said. Among the other businesses allowed open at 50% capacity are salons and barbershops, public pools, overnight and day camps. Some businesses, including bars nightclubs, gyms, and indoor fitness facilities, indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters bowling alleys and museums and public playgrounds, will remain closed.

Cooper lifted the stay-at-home order in this modified phase, which he dubbed “Safer at Home Phase 2,” but urged caution and vigilance.

“Just because you can go more places, doesn’t mean you always should,” he said.

During this time, and which might be in place for the next five weeks through at least June 26, gatherings are restricted to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

“This applies to event venues, conference centers stadiums and sports arenas amphitheaters and groups at parks, or beaches,” Cooper said. “When people gather together, one person can be the spark to spread the virus to many.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of Health & Human Services, said that the data show North Carolina has flattened the curve in some indicators such as hospitalizations, which has apparently leveled, but increased testing has yielded an increase of new cases, she said.

“But this increasing case count also shows us that the virus is here in our communities across the state,” she said. “I would have liked to see this trend starting to level, but it has not yet done that.”

The rising case counts indicate that the state needs to take a more modest step than it would have originally planned for Phase 2, she said.

“We need to be incredibly vigilant to slow the spread of the virus,” she said, and “keeping our trends stable still depends on your actions. What you do to protect your loved ones and your neighbors.”

She stressed that people can have COVID-19 and not have any symptoms.

“If we don’t practice the three W’s—Wear (a face mask), Wait (six feet apart) and Wash (your hands), we can unknowingly expose people to the virus. When we wear a face covering, wait six feet apart and wash our hands often we show our families, friends and neighbors that we care about them.”

Cooper said that as with previous orders, these restrictions are a floor.

“Local governments may enact more strict rules of health officials and local leaders believe it’s in their best interest and in the best interest of the health of their communities,” he said.

Since many in the state have lost their jobs during the shutdown, Cooper said he has directed the Division of Employment Security to improve the efficiency and customer service of the unemployment benefit benefits process.

The following was highlighted during the press conference:

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days:

  • North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing. 

Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days:

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is increasing.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days:

  • North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive has been decreasing and is starting to level. 

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days:

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level. 

In addition to these metrics, the state continues building capacity to be able to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread. These areas include:

Laboratory Testing: 

  • North Carolina has more than doubled the daily testing rate with more than 8,000 tests completed daily on average. More than 300 testing sites across North Carolina are posted on the DHHS testing information website

Tracing Capability:

  • The Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative has already hired more than 150 new contact tracers adding to the 250 already working at our local health departments. 

Personal Protective Equipment: 

  • Supply chains continue to improve. 

What’s included in Safer At Home Phase 2:

Phase 2 lifts the Stay At Home order moving into a Safer At Home recommendation, especially for people at high risk for serious illness. Teleworking is also urged when possible. 

Mass gathering limits in Phase 2 will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors in most circumstances. These limits apply to the following: event venues; conference centers; stadiums and sports arenas; amphitheaters; and groups at parks or beaches. 

Some businesses will remain closed in Phase 2 including: bars; night clubs; gyms and indoor fitness facilities; indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, and bowling alleys. 

Certain businesses will be open at limited capacity with other requirements and recommendations including: restaurants at 50% dine-in capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; personal care businesses, including salons and barbers, at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; pools at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings. 

Childcare facilities, day camps and overnight camps will be open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements. Retail businesses allowed to open in Phase 1 at 50% capacity will continue at that level. 

Public health recommendations are provided for worship services to practice enhanced social distancing and other cleaning and hygiene practices.

Read NC DHHS guidance for various sectors.

Read Frequently Asked Questions about Phase 2.

View the graphs and slides from the Phase 2 press conference.

Read Cooper’s Executive Order No. 141 here.

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