CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - With COVID-19 trends remaining elevated in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the state will once again remain paused in Phase 3.
Phase 3 of North Carolina’s reopening process was set to expire on Friday. Phase 3 has now been extended until Dec. 4.
NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says the state’s trajectory of cases is up.
Instead, after the state reported another day of more than 2,500 new coronavirus cases, Cooper announced on Tuesday that the state will continue on the same paths.
With Thanksgiving just two weeks away, Cooper also announced that social, community and family gatherings have been reduced from 25 to 10 people.
“This reduction in the indoor gathering limit aims to slow the spread and bring down out numbers,” Cooper said. “It also brings a serious message to our families, friends and neighbors across the state. Success in slowing the spread will help our businesses.”
As of Tuesday, North Carolina has reported 297,442 COVID-19 cases with 4,660 deaths since March.
Cooper announced on Tuesday that 2,582 more people tested positive for coronavirus. It’s the 13th of the past 15 days where new cases have topped 2,000.
“Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and many North Carolinians are focused on how to celebrate the holiday amid the pandemic,” Cooper said. “There will be the usual concerns about who is carving the turkey and whether you are going to talk about politics, but we need everyone focused on how to keep safe this holiday season.”
Cooper said that as the weather gets cooler, that will force more people inside, which will bring for more gatherings indoors.
According to health officials, indoor locations are where the virus can easily spread.
“Science shows that the transmission of this virus is much greater indoors,” Cooper said. “The more gathered indoors the easier this virus can spread. We saw increasing spread from social gatherings in October.”
Cooper said businesses struggling to pay rent and mortgage can apply for up to $20,000 assistance from the Department of Commerce.
The governor said the reduction of indoor gatherings does not affect churches or religious activities, nor does it impact schools.
Other exemptions include weddings, funerals, First Amendment activities, work meetings, gyms, restaurants, spas, museums, theaters, hotels, airports, bus, train, libraries and malls.
On Oct. 21, North Carolina “paused” Phase 3 for three weeks for the first time.
With the growing trends, health leaders felt the need to extend it again.
Phase 3 is being extended “because several of our trends are moving in the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “These numbers are not where we want them to be.”
“As frustrating and as painful as it is, we must keep fighting a little while longer,” Cooper said. "We don’t want to let the last eight months of sacrifice go to waste by ignoring safety measures during family gatherings.
North Carolina moved to Phase 3 of reopening at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2. The phase was set to last through Friday, Oct. 23.
“The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically and responsibly,” Cooper said, “And we must rely on North Carolinians taking personal responsibility to protect others by wearing masks and keeping their social distance.”
Cooper said that during Phase 3, the at-risk population is “still safer at home.” He urged anyone over 65 - and those with health risks - to take “responsibility in your choices.”
The following measures were to be followed under Phase 3:
- Face coverings are still mandatory for everybody over the age of 5.
- Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7% occupancy for spectators with other safety protocols.
- Smaller outdoor entertainment venues may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30% of capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less.
- Bars may operate outdoors only at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Outdoor amusement parks may open at 30% occupancy.
- The limits on mass gatherings will remain at 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
- The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars will be extended.
Cooper said, “Until we have a vaccine or a reliable cure, precautions like the 3 W’s are with us for a while. Our children can go back to school and our economy can fully rebuild when we’re safe, and people have confidence that they can stay healthy. Every careful step we make forward, and every time we wear a mask and keep our distance, we are helping to keep this disease at bay, and building a stronger North Carolina.”
Read the entire Phase 3 Executive Order below:
On Tuesday, Dr. Cohen provided an update on North Carolina’s data and trends.
Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing but still elevated.
Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
- ·North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is increasing.
Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is level but above 5 percent.
Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level but high.
In addition to these metrics, the state continues building capacity to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread in testing, tracing and prevention.
- Testing capacity is high
- The state is continuing to hire contact tracers to bolster the efforts of local health departments.
- There have been almost 350,000 downloads of the exposure notification app, SlowCOVIDNC.
Personal Protective Equipment
North Carolina’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are stable.
Several businesses were anxious for Phase 3, hoping they’ll finally be able to open their doors nearly seven months after they first closed. The list of closed businesses include movie theaters, event venues, theaters, concert venues and bars.
Bar owners expected to be able to open inside during Phase 3. Many of them don’t have enough patio spaces to reopen.
Some bar owners called out Governor Cooper for a double standard in his policy making.
Venues like Bank of America stadium, which has a capacity of more than 75,000, were included in the event venues permitted to open at the reduced capacity. Large entertainment venues are those that can seat over 10,000.
“We are excited to welcome some fans back to Bank of America Stadium beginning Oct. 4,” the Carolina Panthers said in a statement. “We have worked for months to develop and implement a responsible and comprehensive plan for the return of fans and we are confident that it will ensure that the game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible.”
Panthers officials say they will continue to follow guidelines provided by the CDC and local and state government, as well as the National Football League.
“With more things open and people moving around more, we need everyone to stay vigilant about wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing their hands often,” said Secretary Mandy Cohen. “Our progress is fragile and will take our continued hard to work to protect it.”
On September 4 at 5 p.m., the state moved into Phase 2.5. The phase expired at 5 p.m. on October 2. The phase allowed gyms and several other establishments to reopen, while loosening restrictions at places that were already operating. Gov. Roy Cooper cited stable coronavirus numbers as the reason the state moved into Phase 2.5.
Cooper announced that beginning on October 5, North Carolina elementary schools were able to open under “Plan A,” which allows all students and staff to return to school.
Schools are also still allowed the option of completely virtual learning, as laid out in N.C.'s “Plan C.”