Because the COVID-19 data has not improved as much as hoped, North Carolina will move into a modified Phase Two of the reopening process Friday with many restrictions still in place, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday at a news conference.
Statewide, 20,122 positive test results have been reported and 702 people have died, according to information posted Wednesday by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
While most data indicators have improved, the state still is posting hundreds of new cases each day. Last Friday, more than 800 positive test results were posted in one day, the largest one-day total ever, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said. However, testing across the state also has dramatically increased in recent days, she said.
“The data indicates that we need to take a more modest step than what we originally planned,” she said at Wednesday’s news conference.
In the Twin Counties, eight new cases were reported on Wednesday.
The Nash County Health Department reported five new cases, bringing the total number in that county to 163. Of that number, 106 people are considered recovered, 50 are isolated at home, four are hospitalized and three have died.
The Edgecombe County Health Department reported three new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total in that county to 173. Of that number, 132 people are considered recovered and eight have died.
“Because the data shows that we can, North Carolina will move into a safer stay-at-home Phase Two at 5 p.m. Friday,” Cooper said Wednesday.
“While I am lifting the stay-at-home order, we are shifting to a safer stay-at-home recommendation,” Cooper said.
This means that teleworking still will be strongly encouraged in Phase Two, he said.
Some businesses that would have been allowed to open under the original plan will need to remain closed, Cooper said. These include bars and nightclubs; gyms and indoor fitness facilities; and indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums. Public playgrounds also will remain closed, Cooper said.
“This is because the potential spread of COVID-19 can be significant in these places,” Cooper said.
Mass gathering limits also have changed from original projections. According to earlier comments, the mass gatherings were to increase to 50 people. Now, Cooper said, the limits remain at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
“This applies to event venues, conference centers, stadiums, sports arenas, amphitheaters and groups at parks and beaches,” he said.
However, swimming pools can open at 50 percent capacity as well as overnight and day camps.
A decision by a federal court judge Saturday stated that these limits will not apply to churches for at least the next two weeks, despite executive orders by the governor. Cooper is not planning to challenge that ruling and did not mention churches Wednesday in his announcement.
Restaurants can reopen for dine-in meals at 50 percent capacity Friday evening under the new executive order, Cooper said. But new cleaning and social distancing requirements will apply. Personal care businesses, such as barbershops and salons, also can reopen at 50 percent capacity with more stringent guidelines in place.
Day care centers also will be open, he said.
These regulations may be stricter in some parts of the state, Cooper said.
“Local governments may enact more strict rules if government officials feel it is in their best interest and in the interest of the health of their communities,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he feels the modified plan is needed.
“This next phase can help us boost our economy, but that can only help our economy if people have confidence in their own safety, which is why it is important to ease restrictions carefully and use data in deciding when to do it,” Cooper said.
Both Cooper and Cohen cautioned that people need to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands in order to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.