North Carolina transitioned to phase II of its coronavirus reopening plan on Friday, May 22 — ending the “Stay at Home” order and entering what’s being called “Safer at Home.”
“Safer at Home is just what it says. Just because you can go more places doesn’t mean you always should,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We need to take a cautious approach to do this in the right way and to keep our curve flat so we don’t encourage the spread of this virus.”
Restrictions during Phase II remain more conservative than originally anticipated. Phase II will last longer than expected, as well. Phase III won’t come for another five weeks at best.
That’s because the daily count of new positive cases in the state has continued to increase.
“Our rising case counts indicate we need to take a more cautious approach than we initially planned,” said Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “Last weekend, we saw our highest single day increase, with 853 cases in one day. Those day-over-day counts are continuing to increase, which is why we want to take a more modest approach.”
Here are the guidelines for what can reopen and how in phase II.
• Restaurants at 50 percent capacity with 6 feet of spacing between customers sitting at another table.
• Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors at 50 percent capacity. Workers are required to wear face masks.
• Summer day camps and overnight camps operating within safety guidelines.
• Child care facilities operating within safety guidelines.
• Swimming pools at 50 percent capacity.
• Retail stores can remain open at 50 percent capacity, or 12 people per 1,000 square feet.
• Sporting events without spectators.
Here’s what can’t reopen under phase II.
• Movie theaters.
• Entertainment venues.
“We think phase II is a good boost to our economy while working to keep people safe,” Cooper said.
Public gathering limit
The public gathering limit during phase II will remain capped at 10 people for indoor settings, but increase to 25 for outdoors settings. The cap on public gatherings is lower than what many expected to see in phase II.
“When people gather together, one person can be the spark to spread the virus to many,” Cooper said. “We have some work to do to slow the spread of this virus and we all need to work together.”
The limit for outdoors gatherings also applies to groups congregating in public parks, so that no one group gathered at a park can exceed 25.
The cap effectively bans any type of festival, parade or fair.
Sporting events and performances can be held, but spectators must be limited to the mass gathering cap. Coaches, athletes, performers and those involved in putting on the event are exempt from the cap — so an outdoor sporting event could be held as long as spectators don’t exceed 25, since players don’t count as part of that 25.
The limit on mass gatherings does not apply to establishments that are permitted to be open, such as swimming pools or child care facilities.
The cap also does not apply to activities where people stay in their own vehicles, such as drive-in movies, drive-in church, or the drive-by graduations being planned for Haywood County’s high schools.
Religious services are exempt from the cap on public gatherings, but Cooper asked churches to “think twice” about what they decide to do.
“The vast majority for congregations across North Carolina are doing the right things to protect their members and we think they will keep doing that,” Cooper said.
Weddings and funerals are also exempt from the cap on mass gatherings.
Personal responsibility urged
Cohen emphasized that people can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms. The “Safer at Home” order implores everyone to practice social distancing, stay six feet apart in stores, wear masks and carry hand sanitizer.
“It shows our friends, family and neighbors that we care about them,” Cohen said.
Cooper urged all North Carolinians to wear masks out of courtesy for others, with masks doing more to protect others from your germs than vice-versa.
“A face covering signifies compassion for others. Wearing one means you actually care about other people’s health,” Cooper said.
While salons and restaurants will be permitted to open under phase II, not all may choose to right away, and the public should respect those decisions, Cooper said.
“Show them the courtesy of patience,” Cooper said.
While the daily number of new positive cases has continued to rise, more people are being tested now. More testing naturally means more positive cases will be detected.
“As we do more testing we expect this indicator to rise,” Cohen said. “But it also signals we need to be cautious and stay vigilant to continue to slow the spread of the virus.”
State officials have been tracking several key metrics to determine what phase II looks like.
“It is important to watch the trend lines over a 14-day period to see if our metrics are increasing, decreasing or stabilizing over time,” Cooper said.
While the daily count of new positive cases has continued to rise, the other metrics being tracked are more promising.
One of those is hospital capacity. Hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients is good, with no sign of hospitals reaching a saturation point.
Likewise, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has remained relatively flat, with around 500 patients hospitalized across the state as of May 20, compared to 450 on April 20.