A “safer stay-at-home Phase Two” that is a “more modest step forward than originally envisioned” will start Friday at 5 p.m., Governor Roy Cooper announced at a 5 p.m. emergency briefing today.

The Governor “scaled back” his original plans for reopening in Phase Two, he explained, because lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase daily.

While today’s new cases numbered a relatively low 422, last Saturday’s new cases hit a record high at 853. The average daily new case total in the past week is 615.

“We need to move in a more cautious way,” the Governor said, in light of this data, and “take a more modest approach.”

While the statewide stay-at-home order will be lifted in Phase Two, many more “nonessential” businesses will remain closed than originally planned. They include bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms, and indoor fitness facilities.

The Governor described these businesses as “places where the likely spread of the virus can occur” because people are indoors, close to each other, and touching the same items.

Public playgrounds also will remain closed.

Businesses allowed to reopen Friday at a limited capacity and with required infection-control measures in place include restaurants, hair and nail salons, barbershops, other personal-care services, and child-care facilities.

Generally speaking, all of these businesses, as well as public swimming pools, will be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity. (See The Beacon’s blog earlier today about restaurant requirements and recommendations.)

The Governor did not directly respond to a reporter’s question about how the 50-percent capacity restriction would be enforced.

The Beacon will report on the new executive order that launches and defines Phase Two in more detail tomorrow.

Before the Governor announced taking the “gradual and cautious step” of Phase Two, Secretary of N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, reviewed the “trends and metrics” that the State is watching to assess the current COVID-19 threat.

All of the metrics except daily lab-confirmed cases are either decreasing or leveling, she said. They include the number of people presenting to hospital emergency departments with COVID-19-like symptoms; the positive-test rate percentage of total cases completed; and the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations—although she did note “a slight uptick in the last two days” in hospitalizations.

Dr. Cohen said “significant progress” has been made in testing statewide and in the hiring of contact tracers. There are now more than 300 COVID-19 testing sites across the state, a list of which is available on the NCDHHS website.

Although indoor mass gatherings remain restricted in Phase Two to no more than 10 people, the Governor announced that up to 25 people may gather together outdoors.

Religious services are exempt from the mass-gathering restrictions, he said, but worshipers are encouraged to practice social distancing. Other safety recommendations for worship services are included in the new executive order.

As originally outlined by the Governor, Phase Two was projected to last between four and six weeks. Today Dr. Cohen said it would be in place for five weeks.

Asked by a reporter what Phase Three might look like, Governor Cooper said he expected more businesses to be open, restrictions to be eased, and fewer limits to be set.

“It’s hard to predict what things will be like a month from now,” he said.

But he also observed that “We want very much to be able to start school in August.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/20/20


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