North Carolina moves into Phase 3 Oct. 2

DRINK UP: Under Phase 3, bars are allowed to reopen for outside service only at the lesser of 30% capacity or 100 guests. Photo by Kat McReynolds

North Carolina will enter Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, paving the way for bars, movie theaters and entertainment venues to reopen at reduced capacity, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a Sept. 30 press conference. 

Under Cooper’s new executive order, movie theaters, small outdoor entertainment venues, conference centers and amusement parks can operate at 30% of capacity or 100 seated guests, whichever is less. As announced last week, outdoor venues holding more than 10,000 people are allowed to reopen at 7% capacity. Music halls, auditoriums, nightclubs and theaters can reopen at 30% reduced capacity outside or with up to 25 indoor guests. 

Bars, which General Assembly members had voted to open in June in a bill vetoed by Cooper, are now permitted to reopen for outside service only at the lesser of 30% capacity or 100 guests. Facilities without a stated outdoor occupancy can host no more than seven guests for every 1,000 square feet of space. 

Mass gathering limits remain the same as in the current Phase 2.5: 25 people indoors, 50 people outdoors. Face masks are still required for anyone above the age of five, and the statewide 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales will stay in effect. 

The order is set to expire on Friday, Oct. 23. Cooper’s original reopening plan only outlined three phases, with Phase 3 as the final step before lifting restrictions; health officials will carefully monitor the state’s COVID-19 metrics over the next three weeks before making a decision about what more North Carolina will do, he said. 

The 3Ws — wearing a face covering, washing hands and waiting 6 feet apart — continue to be critical for fighting the virus’ spread, Cooper added. “We are cautiously encouraged about where we are with the pandemic,” he said. “But we see warning signs that this virus could spike again, here and across the country.”

NCDHHS releases Halloween guidelines

Already thinking about a Halloween costume? Consider an outfit that incorporates a face mask, suggested Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. On Sept. 25, her office released new guidelines for Halloween event organizers to keep celebrations safe.

Traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating where children take candy from a shared bucket is a high-risk activity, as is trunk-or-treating in large parking lots, the guidelines state. Instead, NCDHHS recommends lining up individually wrapped goodie bags for grab-and-go giveaways, tossing candy at trick-or-treaters or rigging up a “candy chute” to pass candy to children standing 6 feet away. 

The holiday is known for scary costumes and horror movies, but “if screaming is likely to occur, greater social distancing is advised,” per the recommendations. North Carolina’s mask mandate, mass gathering limits and alcohol curfew will all continue to apply during any festivities. 

“Halloween is not canceled, but it needs to look different,” Cohen said. “Families need to evaluate their own risk and take the necessary steps to protect themselves. There are still ways to celebrate; we’ll just have to do it differently.”  

In other news

  • NCDHHS released updated guidance to allow indoor visitation at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Indoor visits are only permitted in facilities with no COVID-19 cases in counties with a test positivity rate of 10% or less, in line with recommendations from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 
  • The city of Asheville has extended the AVL Shares Space initiative through Sunday, Jan. 3. Currently, the program authorizes 78 businesses to expand outdoors via curbside pick-up zones, temporary parklets in on-street parking spaces and occupation of adjacent public sidewalks.
  • COVID-19 antigen test information is now available on NCDHHS’ COVID-19 dashboard. Antigen tests, sometimes referred to as rapid tests, look for specific proteins on the surface of the virus; molecular (PCR) tests amplify the virus’ genetic material. As of Sept. 30, NCDHHS had reported 4,929 cases linked to antigen tests. 
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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