5/6/20:  OUTER BANKS TO OPEN TO VISITORS MAY 16. MOVE COMES ON HEELS OF GOVERNOR’S START OF PHASE ONE FRIDAY.

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All visitors may freely enter the Outer Banks starting Saturday, May 16 at 12:01 a.m.

Dare, Hyde, and Currituck counties will lift restrictions on entry for visitors to the Outer Banks starting May 16 at 12:01 a.m., Robert Woodard, the Chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, announced today in a videotaped message.

See bulletin and message at https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6226/1483

“As visitors prepare for vacation,” Mr. Woodard said, “it is important to remember that the coronavirus is not over. There are still State restrictions in effect to protect everyone’s safety that may impact the way you have vacationed on the Outer Banks in the past.”

This decision made by the three Outer Banks counties in coordination with each other is directly attributable to the Governor’s issuance yesterday of Executive Order 138, which initiates at 5 p.m. Friday Phase One of his three-phase reopening plan.

North Carolina’s stay-at-home order remains in effect during Phase One.

Executive Order No. 138, which is titled “Easing Restrictions on Travel, Business Operations, and Mass Gatherings: Phase 1,” expands upon the allowable activities in which people may engage outside of their homes and reopens some retail businesses, subject to restrictions, as The Beacon reported yesterday.

(See The Beacon’s report of the Governor’s press conference, 5/5/20.)

For the text of the order, which is very extensive, see https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO138-Phase-1.pdf.

Having read the Executive Order, The Beacon believes it is important to distinguish between requirements that are being imposed, and are legally enforceable through criminal arrest and prosecution, and recommendations that are being advised.

Requirements come into play chiefly in relation to regulation of businesses.

When people leave their residences for “allowable activities” during Phase One, Executive Order No. 138 “strongly” advises them to take steps to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, but it does not require them to do so. Dare County also recommends the same measures, but it does not require them.

These steps, which are known in the Executive Order as “Recommendations to Promote Social Distancing and Reduce Transmission,” include maintaining six-foot social distancing; wearing a cloth face covering; carrying a hand sanitizer and using it frequently; and washing hands frequently.

The order advises people, but it does not require them, to wear a face covering whenever they leave home, including inside all public settings, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, or other “retail or public-serving businesses,” as well as outdoors when they cannot maintain at least six-feet distancing from other people who are not family or household members.

People may now engage in more “allowable activities,” subject to the recommendations on social distancing

ALLOWABLE ACTIVITIES

According to the new executive order, people may now act:

  • For health and safety: People may leave their homes to engage in health and safety tasks or activities for themselves, their family or household members, people who are unable to or should not leave their homes, and for their pets.
  • To look for and obtain goods and services: People may leave their homes to look for or obtain goods and services from a business or operation that is not closed by the previous Executive Order that imposed the stay-at-home order. Attendance as a spectator at a sporting event, concert, or other performance is not allowed.
  • To engage in outdoor activity: People are “encouraged” to engage in outdoor activities, provided they do not form prohibited mass gatherings of more than 10 people. State parks and trails may reopen, but public playgrounds remain closed, including those in state parks. Park operators must adhere to the same requirements that are being imposed on retail businesses. (See below.)
  • For work: People may leave home, provided their place of employment is not closed by the new Executive Order (a restaurant or bar, for example).
  • To look for work.
  • To take care of others: People may leave home to care for or assist a family member, a friend, or a pet in another household, and to transport family members, friends, or pets, as allowed. This includes weddings and funerals, the latter of which are limited to gatherings of 50 people, who should observe the social-distancing recommendations.
  • To worship or exercise First Amendment rights.
  • To travel between places of residence.
  • To volunteer, but only for organizations that provide charitable and social services.
  • To attend small outdoor get-togethers: People may travel to another person’s home for social purposes, provided no more than 10 people gather, and the activity occurs outside.

People riding on public transit MUST comply with the social-distancing recommendations.

RETAIL BUSINESSES THAT CAN OPERATE

It is easiest to identify which retail businesses can operate during Phase One by identifying those that cannot. The following businesses remain closed during Phase One because of close contact among people:

  • Personal care and grooming businesses: including, but not limited to, barber shops; beauty, hair, nail, and tanning salons; tattoo parlors; and massage therapists, except for those who provide medical massage therapy.
  • Entertainment facilities without a retail or dining component, including, but not limited to, bingo parlors; bowling alleys; indoor exercise facilities (gyms, yoga studios, indoor rock climbing facilities, etc.); indoor/outdoor pools; live performance venues; movie theaters; spas; skating rinks; and gaming businesses and those that allow gaming activities, such as video arcades.

All other retail businesses may operate during Phase One, provided they meet safety requirements imposed by the Executive Order.

Social distancing that we have become accustomed to observing in stores remains in effect, as do requirements on business owners to clean high-touch areas, provide hand sanitizer, and conduct daily COVID-19 symptom screening of workers. The big change here is that the maximum customer occupancy has been increased.

Businesses are now being limited to no more than 50 percent of their stated fire capacity. If they do not have a stated fire capacity, then they must limit customer occupancy to 12 customers per 1,000 square feet of the business location’s total square footage, including the parts of the location that are not accessible to customers.

Open retail businesses are also “strongly encouraged” to ensure that their workers stay at least six feet apart from each other and from customers; to provide designated times for people age 65 and over and other high-risk populations to access services; to develop and use systems that allow for contact-free ordering (online, email, telephone) and pickup or home delivery, and contact-free checkout; and to use shields at cash registers, provide clear designation of entry and exit points and assistance with routing through store aisles.

NO CHANGE WITH RESTAURANTS AND BARS

There is a special section in Executive Order 138 for restaurants. Nothing has changed. They may remain open only if the consumption of food and beverages occurs off-premises through drive-through, curbside pickup, carryout, or other such non-contact means. Restaurants are encouraged, but not required, to comply with the social-distancing recommendations, particularly by requiring their workers to wear face coverings.

Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen has determined that the seating areas of restaurants and bars “constitute an imminent hazard for the spread of COVID-19.” Restaurants remain restricted, and bars remain closed.

No sit-down food or beverage service is permitted in any business.

NO MASS GATHERINGS, WITH EXCEPTIONS

The Executive Order defines mass gatherings that bring more than 10 people together “at the same time in a single space, such as an auditorium, stadium, conference room,” etc., or “any other confined indoor or outdoor space.”

The prohibition against mass gatherings remains in effect, with some new exceptions.

The prohibition does not apply to mass gatherings for health and safety, for shopping and obtaining goods and services, for work, for worship, for the exercise of First Amendment rights, or for receiving governmental services.

Mass gatherings for worship may occur outdoors, provided participants observe social-distancing requirements.

The same is true of mass gatherings at airports, bus and train stations or stops, medical facilities, shopping malls, and shopping centers. They may occur, but people must observe social distancing.

Phase One will be in effect at least through 5 p.m. May 22.

KEY METRICS TRENDS

The Beacon had intended today to go over the metric trends in more detail that Dr. Cohen outlined at yesterday’s press conference. These trends, which she viewed as hopeful, but not perfect, prompted the Governor, in consultation with the NCDHHS Secretary, to initiate Phase One. We will save them for another day.

Asked by a reporter at yesterday’s conference what concerns him the most about Phase One, Governor Cooper answered: “people beginning to not take [COVID-19] seriously.”

If North Carolinians are lax about observing safety restrictions and recommendations, Phase One may last longer than two weeks, or the Governor, conceivably, could roll back the reopening altogether.

The 24-hour metric picture provided on the NCDHHS dashboard today shows that 502 new COVID-19 cases were reported, an increase of 94 over the previous 24 hours, based on 12,682 laboratory tests. Hospitalizations statewide dropped by 18, from 534 to 516.

The percent of positive tests among all tests performed in the past 24 hours is an encouraging 4 percent.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/6/20

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