North Carolina to begin Phase 1 reopening but stay-at-home order remains

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North Carolina will move into Phase 1 of its reopening effective Friday at 5 p.m. amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced his three-phased approach to "reinvigorate" the state's economy in a press conference Tuesday. He said a revised stay-at-home order will remain in place, barbershops and hair salons must remain closed, and restaurants cannot begin sitting people in their dining rooms just yet.

"We have to keep taking precautions to keep people safe, but at the same time, we know we can't stay at home forever," Cooper said.

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Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing on North Carolina's coronavirus pandemic response Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the NC Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. 

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing on North Carolina's coronavirus pandemic response Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the NC Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. 

That means, during Phase 1, people are permitted to leave home for commercial activity and some nonessential businesses can reopen. Face coverings are strongly encouraged when in public – but are not required.

Retailers, including clothing, sporting goods and houseware stores, have been cleared to re-open at 50 percent capacity, given they implement social distancing among customers, screen employees for symptoms and conduct routine sanitization, WTVD in Raleigh reported.

Gatherings are still limited to 10 people, but, in Phase 1, “gathering outdoors with friends allowed,” the state website says.

Child care centers also will be allowed to welcome children beyond those whose parents are essential workers. They can now accommodate children whose parents work or are looking for a job.

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Though bars and restaurants remain restricted to takeout or delivery, dining rooms may re-open during Phase 2, which given the state maintains a downward trajectory in coronavirus cases, will begin on May 22, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. Barbershops and hair salons also must remain closed until Phase 2.

Movie theaters, music venues and bowling alleys have not been cleared to re-open. On April 23, Cooper said entertainment venues could reopen during Phase 2 in a limited capacity, then be allowed to increase capacity four to six weeks after reopening, during Phase 3, the newspaper reported. Gyms also remain closed and, as of now, there is no expected re-open date.

Outdoor worship services have always been permitted in North Carolina amid coronavirus lockdown measures. Visitation at long-term care centers remains off-limits. State parks and trails are encouraged to reopen at local discretion during Phase 1, but playgrounds will remain closed.

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Protesters from a grassroots organization called REOPEN NC demonstrate against the North Carolina coronavirus lockdown at a parking lot adjacent to the North Carolina State Legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 14, 2020. - The group was demanding the state economy be opened up no later than April 29. 

Protesters from a grassroots organization called REOPEN NC demonstrate against the North Carolina coronavirus lockdown at a parking lot adjacent to the North Carolina State Legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 14, 2020. - The group was demanding the state economy be opened up no later than April 29.  (AFP via Getty)

In the same press conference Tuesday, Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's secretary of Health and Human Services, emphasized the "three Ws": wear masks, wait in line six feet apart and wash hands often when venturing in public. Though there’s no statewide mandate, some counties, like Durham, have required face masks when in public areas, WTVD reported.

In order for North Carolina to enter Phase 2, Cohen said the state must first observe either a sustained leveling or decrease in the number of daily new infections and hospitalizations. There must also be a decrease in the percentage of positive tests, and a decrease in the number of emergency room visits for COVID-19 patients.

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"We're not perfect, but we're stable," she said.

North Carolina, as of Thursday, recorded at least 13,397 confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 507 deaths, according to the state health department. It has completed 171,328 tests, and, as of Thursday, 525 COVID-19 patients remained hospitalized.