North Carolina will move into Phase 2 of its three-phase reopening plan on Friday, May 22, at 5 p.m., Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a May 20 press conference. Restaurants, pools and personal care services — including salons and barber shops — will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, while child care facilities, day camps and overnight camps can open with “enhanced cleaning and screening requirements.”
Under the new executive order, bars, nightclubs, gyms and indoor entertainment facilities, including bowling alleys and movie theaters, will remain closed. An increase in lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases prompted state officials to take a more cautious approach to Phase 2 than initially anticipated, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. She noted that 738 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported in North Carolina on May 20, underscoring the need to proceed cautiously.
The statewide stay-at-home order will be lifted, but a “safer at home” recommendation will remain in place for at-risk populations such as older adults and those with preexisting conditions. Teleworking is recommended when possible.
Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people, while outdoor gatherings can now include 25 individuals. The latter limit also applies to conference centers, event venues, stadiums and sports areas, amphitheaters and groups at parks or beaches. Religious gatherings, wedding ceremonies and funeral services are exempt from the Phase 2 order, Cooper said, but attendees are encouraged to practice social distancing and follow other safety guidelines.
The “safer at home” order will run through at least Monday, June 22, Cooper said. State leaders will continue monitoring data, including the overall trajectory of positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalization rates and testing capacity, to determine North Carolina’s readiness to move to a more relaxed Phase 3.
Buncombe board mandates masks in commercial settings
During a May 21 emergency meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners moved to require the wearing of face coverings at all commercial establishments in the county. The mandate, which will be included as part of an updated county emergency declaration to be signed Friday, May 22, was approved in a 4-3 vote along party lines, with the board’s Democrats in favor and its Republicans opposed.
Brownie Newman, the board’s Democratic chair, called the emergency meeting without prior notice to the public or media, which is legally permitted only for “generally unexpected circumstances that require immediate consideration by the public body.” The county has been in a state of emergency regarding COVID-19 since March 12. Xpress also did not receive a formal notice of the meeting immediately after it was announced to the commissioners, as required by state law.
Democratic Commissioner Al Whitesides said he’d heard from multiple area business owners who had requested that the county pass such a rule. Although individual businesses already have the power to require that employees and customers wear masks on their premises, he explained that those owners wanted the county’s backing to help them enforce the rule.
“Nobody hates wearing a mask more than I do, I’ll admit that,” Whitesides said. “But when we look at it from the [standpoint of] safety of the people of Buncombe County, I think to me it’s a no-brainer.”
In contrast, Republican Robert Pressley suggested that a more pressing safety concern was customers taking violent umbrage at being required to wear masks in public. The board’s vice chair, who owns Celebrity’s Hotdogs in the Bent Creek area, said attitudes about masks differed substantially between residents of urban Asheville and rural Buncombe.
“I am scared for my employees that this big burly guy comes in and says he is not going to wear a mask, and ‘I want service,’” Pressley said. “You get out in Leicester, Sandy Mush … the danger’s not going to be arresting someone for not having [a mask]. It’s going to be for someone getting something out of their car, or someone coming in and taking retaliation.”
In other news:
- FIND Outdoor and the U.S. Forest Service will reopen the Black Mountain, Carolina Hemlocks and Briar Bottom campgrounds on Monday, June 15. Briar Bottom will operate under reduced capacity until Wednesday, July 15, as will the rental pavilion and day use parking area at Carolina Hemlocks.
- Pardee UNC Health Care is participating in the national Expanded Access Program to provide convalescent plasma to COVID-19 patients across the country. Patients with either a positive COVID-19 test or a positive COVID-19 antibody test who have gone at least 14 days without symptoms are eligible and encouraged to donate.
- On Monday, June 1, the YMCA of Western North Carolina will kick off summer day camp for children ages 5-12, open indoor and outdoor pools and begin a series of outdoor fitness classes. Pools, following new safety guidelines, will open at the Asheville YMCA, Black Mountain YMCA, Corpening Memorial YMCA, Hendersonville Family YMCA and Reuter Family YMCA.
- The Asheville-Buncombe Memorial Day ceremony will be held virtually on Monday, May 25, at 11 a.m. All community and recreation centers will be closed for the holiday, and Asheville Rides Transit bus service routes will operate on a reduced holiday schedule.
With additional reporting by Daniel Walton