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North Carolina will remain in the “Safer at Home” Phase 2 of reopening until 5 p.m. on Sept. 11, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. This is the second extension of Phase 2 in North Carolina, following Cooper’s July 16 announcement that stated restrictions would remain in effect in the state until at least Aug. 7.
“In keeping with our dimmer switch approach with schools opening, and in order to push for decreasing numbers which will keep people healthier and boost our economy, North Carolina will remain paused in Safer At Home Phase 2 for five weeks,” he said at the news conference. “While we’re seeing stabilization of our numbers, that doesn’t mean we can let up. We know the stability is fragile and these trends can change quickly if we let down our guards."
Gov. Cooper emphasized the importance of not overwhelming hospitals, saying some other states that opened up more quickly than North Carolina are now experiencing overcrowded hospitals. Currently, there are 1,167 people hospitalized in North Carolina for the virus, but those numbers could easily go up, he said.
In North Carolina, there are at least 129,288 lab-confirmed cases of patients with COVID-19 and 1,167 people hospitalized for the virus, he said. At this point, 2,050 North Carolinians have died from the coronavirus.
"Every single one of them represents someone in mourning and a community grieving their loss," Cooper said. "They are more than numbers on a chart — they are North Carolinians who are missed dearly."
The Phase 2 extension keeps bars, gyms, and entertainment venues closed and also limits the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings in retail stores, restaurants and other businesses. Under Phase 2, restaurant dining rooms are allowed to have 50% occupancy, as are “personal care businesses” like salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors. Educational institutions and government operations are exempt from statewide prohibitions on mass gatherings.
According to Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the metrics that the state uses to analyze the spread of the virus have stabilized. Still, stabilized numbers do not mean the state is in the clear, according to the governor.
The metrics that the state considers when moving to a new phase include COVID-like syndromic cases, laboratory-confirmed cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests and hospitalizations. The state is also looking at statewide capacity for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment. The combination of these metrics were analyzed over the past 14 days.
"My glimmer of hope remains as we see subtle signs of progress," Cohen said. “Overall, we are seeing signs of stability, but we still have much work to do.”
While the turnaround for testing times have improved, fewer tests have been conducted over the past week, Cohen said. She added that “anyone who needs a test” should get one, particularly those who have recently attended a large gathering or work in a higher-risk job.
Cooper and Cohen both said that the decision to extend Phase 2 for five weeks, rather than two or three, was made with the reopening of public schools in mind. The governor announced on July 14 that schools would open under the hybrid learning Plan B, stating that “there are no decisions more important than our children in our schools.” At the time, he said individual schools could opt for the fully remote Plan C option. The Chatham County Schools Board of Education announced at their July 16 meeting that CCS would start under Plan C for the first four weeks of school and then re-evaluate.
Half of North Carolina’s K-12 school districts will be offering a form of in-person learning this fall, Cohen said. At this time, fully in-person learning — Plan A — is not an option for any district in North Carolina.
Cohen said the state will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 trends and commended North Carolinians following recommended health protocols. The governor emphasized the importance of continuing to wear face coverings in public, staying home when possible and washing hands frequently.
"Whether it's a storm or pandemic, that kind of hope and our shared commitment to a stronger future will keep us going," Cooper said. "Hold onto that hope. Keep wearing your mask. And know that these difficult times won't last forever, but our strength and resilience will."