North Carolina will enter 'Phase 2' of its reopening on Friday. But due to rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the state will do so in a more cautious manner.
Governor Roy Cooper and Health & Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen made the announcement Wednesday in Raleigh, a full 48 hours before the modified 'Phase 2' will start on Friday at 5 p.m. Restaurants, salons, and pools will be allowed to open at 50% capacity at that time. Due to the rising number of daily COVID-19 cases, bars, gyms, public playgrounds, and indoor entertainment venues like movie theaters and night clubs will remain closed in 'Phase 2'.
North Carolina has seen sharp daily increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past week, including 853 last Saturday, the single biggest daily increase since the pandemic started. On Wednesday, the state topped 20-thousand confirmed cases and 700 deaths. Cohen attributed the rise in cases to more testing being completed. The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 statewide has stayed stable in the past two weeks, a key indicator of whether 'Phase 2' could begin. Cohen said the stabilizing number of hospitalizations means the health care system can safely serve all in the state, including those who do not have COVID-19. She added other benchmarks - such as the capacity to test and contact trace for any news outbreaks as well as a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care responders - have been reached sufficiently for 'Phase 2' to start.
The indoor public gathering limit during 'Phase 2' is ten people, while the outdoor public gathering limit is 25. Following last week's federal court ruling that blocked such restrictions on religious services in North Carolina during 'Phase 1', such events will be exempt from the gathering limit in 'Phase 2'. Cooper said Wednesday he hoped religious leaders would still follow the limits anyway for the sake of the health of their parishioners. Two Baptist churches, a minister, and a Christian revival group sued the Governor, alleging the gathering limits violated their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.