Gov. Roy Cooper extends Phase Two for five more weeks


North Carolina will remain in the “Safer at Home” Phase 2 of reopening until 5 p.m. on  Sept. 11, Gov. Roy Cooper announced last Wednesday — the second extension of Phase 2 in North Carolina, following Cooper’s July 16 announcement stating 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 facilities. As of Aug. 10, there were 1,109 people hospitalized in North Carolina for the virus, but Cooper warned those numbers could easily go up.

In North Carolina, also as of Aug. 10, there were at least 136,218 lab-confirmed cases of patients with COVID-19 and 2,168 North Carolinians who have died from the virus, according to North Carolina’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“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.” 

In Chatham, there are 1,300 cases and 52 deaths from COVID-19 as of Aug. 10. Nearly 70% of deaths from the virus in Chatham were in residents 75 years and older, while 40% of the cases in Chatham were found in residents ages 25 to 49.

‘Subtle signs of progress’

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, the 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 also looks at statewide capacity for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment. The combination of these metrics were analyzed over the 14-day period prior to Wednesday’s news conference.

“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.

In Chatham County, six medical providers are offering COVID-19 tests, according to a chart released by the Chatham County Public Health Department in early July.

Besides Chatham Hospital and Piedmont Health’s Siler City and Moncure clinics, four other centers are accepting appointments: Avance Care in South Chapel Hill, Central Piedmont Urgent Care in Siler City, Pine Ridge Urgent Care in Pittsboro and the CVS on U.S. Hwy. 15-501.

Decision made with return-to-school in mind

Cooper and Cohen both said that the decision to extend Phase 2 for five weeks, rather than by 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 school systems 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. On Aug. 10, the board unanimously extended that timeframe to the first nine weeks of the semester.

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.”