North Carolina will enter the first stage of reopening this Friday evening, as many businesses currently shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be allowed to open for the first time since March.
Governor Roy Cooper on Tuesday signed a new executive order that allows his current stay at home order to expire this Friday at 5 p.m. At that time, 'Phase 1' of reopening will begin for a minimum of two weeks. During 'Phase 1', many retail businesses will be allowed to open, but only at half capacity to ensure customers can still safely practice social distancing. Restaurants will remain closed except for takeout and delivery service, while bars, theaters, performance venues, gyms, salons, and other personal care outlets remain closed outright. A ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in effect. Outdoor worship services can take place provided there are no more than 10 people. Employers are encouraged to continue to have employees telework, while the wearing of masks while out in public is highly encouraged.
“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state, and Phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” said Governor Cooper. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.” While the current executive order keeps 'Phase 1' in effect for two weeks until May 22nd, it can be extended further should the revelant medical benchmarks needed for 'Phase 2' to begin are not met.
In order for 'Phase 1' to start, Governor Cooper and state health officials said they needed to see downward trends in both the percentage of tests that came back as confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as hospitalizations statewide. The percentage of testing has decreased consistently since its peak April 17th, while the number of hospitalizations has stabilized in the last week according to state health & human services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
“We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward," Cohen said Tuesday. "When you leave your home, follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart." Cohen adds the state has increased its capacity to sufficient levels to test and contact trace to respond to any concentrated outbreaks in the future, two other benchmarks that needed to be met for 'Phase 1.' She says they have also added to the stockpile of personal protective equipment needed for healthcare responders, and are looking to add more.