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Phase 1 of reopening starts Friday, Cooper says

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the state would enter into phase 1 of his administration's plan to reopen the state's economy on Friday.

“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,” Cooper said. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”

Mandy Cohen, secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, added: “We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward. When you leave your home, follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart."

Tuesday's order removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses. Retail businesses are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity and will be required to direct customers to stand 6 feet apart, perform frequent cleanings, provide hand sanitizer when available, screen workers for symptoms and more. The order allows people to leave their homes for commercial activity at any business that is open. 

Certain businesses remain closed, including bars, personal care businesses, entertainment venues, and gyms. Restaurants may only continue to serve customers for drive-through, take out and delivery. 

All workers at retail and other businesses are recommended to wear cloth face coverings. Teleworking is still encouraged for businesses that can practice it.

Though small outdoor gatherings will be allowed in Phase 1, gatherings of more than 10 people generally are still prohibited. The Order encourages cloth face coverings to be worn when outside the home and in contact with others. Everyone who uses a face covering should adhere to this guidance without fear of profiling or bias.

During Phase 1, childcare facilities will be open to serve families of parents who are working or looking for work. These centers will be required to follow strict cleaning protocols. Summer day camps can operate in compliance with NC DHHS guidelines.

"This is a totally data-driven decision that I think is positive for the safety of our state," Cooper said. He signed a new executive order that starts the state on a three-phase path to reopening.

In a news conference, Cooper and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen answered questions about the gradual reopening. One question was about the view from the N.C. Chamber of Commerce that services like hair salons should be allowed to reopen as long as they take precautions.

"We've had conversations with the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and we have read the plan they proposed and a lot of the plans are similar," Cooper said. In salons and barbershops, "it's almost impossible to social distance and until we're able to stabilize testing and trends those are the kinds of things we think should be open in phase 2."

Asked whether he's confident that the state can move into phase 2 of the reopening process on May 22, Cooper said it depends on the trends and testing capacity.

"We are hopeful that is the case but we're going to wait and look at this data," he said. "The health and safety of North Carolinians will be the No. 1 priority and in order for our economy to thrive people need to feel safe, they need to trust this process and I think most North Carolinians do. We're hopeful but we'll see what the data tells us and we'll make the decisions accordingly."

Steps in Phase 1 are:

  • Modify the stay at home to order allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers.
  • Ensure that any open stores implement appropriate employee and consumer social distancing, enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols, symptom screening of employees, accommodations for vulnerable workers, and provide education to employees and workers to combat misinformation
  • Continue to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people
  • Reopen parks that have been closed subject to the same gathering limitation. Outdoor exercise will continue to be
  • encouraged.
  • Continue to recommend face coverings in public spaces when 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible
  • Encourage employers to continue teleworking policies
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings
  • Local emergency orders with more restrictive measures may remain in place.

Phase 2, at least 2-3 weeks after Phase 1:

  • Lift stay at home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home to stay safe
  • Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols including the potential need to reduce capacity
  • Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity
  • Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings
  • Open public playgrounds
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings

Phase 3, at least 4-6 weeks after Phase 2.

  • Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible
  • Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships, and entertainment venues
  • Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings