North Carolina will remain in Phase 2 of its coronavirus restrictions for at least five more weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday, as numbers related to the spread of the virus have shown signs of stabilization but not significant improvement.
It is the third time that Cooper has extended Phase 2 of the coronavirus shutdown, which does not permit bars or fitness facilities to reopen. North Carolina has been in a version of Phase 2 since May 22.
“Stable is good, but decreasing is better,” Cooper said. “While we are seeing stabilization of our numbers, that doesn’t mean we can let up. We know stability is fragile and these trends can change quickly if we let down our guards.”
A five-week extension covers not only the reduced Republican National Convention in Charlotte (Aug. 21-24), but also Labor Day (Sept. 7). It now lasts until Sept. 11.
Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the longer extension of the phase – the two previous extensions were three weeks each – is, in part, to cover the reopening of schools through the remainder of August.
“We know that school opening is going to happen over a number of weeks over the course of August and we want to be able to have a good line of sight after those openings to make sure that we understand which way are our trends heading,” Cohen said. “Are they going to still continue to be stable or heading downward or going upward?”
Cohen said that the number of new cases, and the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus have stabilized, but that they would like both those numbers lower. In recent weeks, the test-positivity rate has consistently been 7-9%; experts have advised that number be closer to 4-5%.
North Carolina has added additional restrictions in recent weeks – a mandatory face mask order on June 26 and requiring restaurants to stop serving alcohol after 11 p.m. on July 31 --- and Cooper said, “There’s a direct correlation with the mandatory mask order. … We know that that’s having a positive effect.”
Phase 2 also limits indoor gatherings to 10 people, which presents obstacles for even the reduced-capacity RNC planned for Charlotte. Some 336 delegate are expected to attend, and the RNC said Wednesday that it has submitted a health and safety plan to the Department of Health and Human Services that includes requiring face masks and taking a COVID-19 test before traveling to Charlotte.
Cohen said her office has provided feedback and suggestions to the RNC on that plan to make it “even stronger.”
“The RNC has changed its mind an awful lot,” Cooper said. “It was going to be in Charlotte then in Jacksonville and back in Charlotte again. We remain ready and willing to work with them on a safe convention. The president had insisted to me that he be able to hold a nomination process in a full arena and we told them we could not guarantee that. But that we would work with the convention in order to be able to hold one that is safe. Our Department of Health and Human Services will continue to work with the RNC to make sure that can happen.”
Cooper said he extended restrictions to ensure that numbers do not spike and the state does not have to revert to Phase 1.
“One of the things we don’t want to do is go backward,” Cooper said, which states such as Texas and Arizona were forced to do when numbers spiked in recent months. “One of the best ways to prevent that from happening is for people to wear masks and to social distance. The more people who do this, the better off we’re going to be to ease restrictions and move forward like we very much want to do.”
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