North Carolina will move into “Safer at Home” Phase 2.5 on Friday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m., announced Gov. Roy Cooper during a Sept. 1 press conference. The move comes more than three months after the state first transitioned into Phase 2 at the end of May.
Under the new order, gyms and other fitness facilities will be allowed to open at 30% capacity, museums and aquariums will open at 50% capacity and playgrounds will open with no capacity limits, Cooper explained. Statewide mass gathering limits will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, movie theaters and other entertainment venues will remain closed at this time, Cooper added. The order, which lasts through Friday, Oct. 2, will not affect current requirements for restaurants, breweries, retail shops or large venues, and at-risk individuals are still encouraged to stay at home.
The executive order also states that children age five and older are now expected to wear a face covering in all public settings. Previously, children 11 years or younger were exempt.
“Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer-switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Cooper said. “But I want to be clear: We can continue to do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works, wearing masks and social distancing.”
The announcement was partially driven by a stabilization of the state’s key metrics used to track the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. The number of COVID-like cases reported to emergency departments — one of the earliest indicators of community spread of the coronavirus — are decreasing, she said, as are hospitalizations. The overall case count and the rate of positive tests remain stable.
Cohen also released a new secretarial order permitting outdoor visitation at skilled nursing facilities across the state, marking the first time facility residents have been allowed to see outside visitors since March. Outdoor visitation will not occur at facilities experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak; all facilities allowing visitors must have a written infection control and testing plan for COVID-19.
Phase 2.5 will only be successful if everyone continues to practice the 3Ws —wear a face covering, wait 6 feet apart and wash hands regularly, Cooper emphasised. Until a vaccine is available, these tools will be the only way to keep viral spread low as the state continues to move forward with reopening.
“I’ve seen the tremendous things North Carolinians can do to take care of each other after a storm, a flood, even an earthquake or a local crisis,” Cooper said. “A mask isn’t hard at all compared to the lengths I’ve seen people go to help each other.”
Read the full executive order here.