By John Trump
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper is easing restrictions on North Carolinians because of COVID-19, but the stay-at-home order remains in place.
Cooper said Tuesday, May, 5, that he signed an executive order allowing the state to enter Phase One of a plan to reopen the state, though restaurants, private clubs, hair salons, and gyms will remain closed.
“We are easing restrictions in a data-driven way,” Cooper said in a news conference.
Phase One begins Friday at 5 p.m., and Phase Two, which further eases restrictions, could begin May 22, if key metrics regarding the virus are met.
“We have flattened the curve, but we haven’t eliminated COVID-19,” Cooper said.
The state doesn’t want a surge in new cases, he said, but “we can’t stay in our homes forever.”
Protesters seeking to reopen the economy continued to demonstrate in Raleigh on Tuesday, although fewer people showed up compared to past weeks. The protests extend throughout the country as restrictive stay-at-home orders continue in states such as Michigan. States including South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, however, were among the first to significantly ease restrictions.
“We are concerned about how fast they are moving,” Cooper said in response to a question about states reopening restaurants and salons, for example.
The order removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses, a news release says. Retail businesses can open at 50% capacity and will be required to direct customers to stand six feet apart, perform frequent cleanings, provide hand sanitizer when available, screen workers for symptoms, and more. Restaurants may only continue to serve customers for drive-through, take out, and delivery.
Though small outdoor gatherings will be allowed in Phase One, gatherings of more than 10 people generally are still prohibited, the release says. The order reopens state parks and encourages cloth face coverings when outside and in contact with others.
Child care facilities will be open to serve families of parents working or looking for work, and the centers will be required to follow strict cleaning protocols. Summer day camps can operate in compliance with health department guidelines.
“This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data,” Cooper said in the release, “and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said North Carolina remains stable on key metrics, including the trajectory in cases of COVID-like illness, the trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over 14 days, and the supply of personal protective equipment.
Cohen, in addition to her usual graphs tracking the virus, on Tuesday told people to remember the three Ws: Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay six feet away from others.
“We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward,” she said.
Trump is a reporter for the Carolina Journal News Service
Editor’s note: Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) released the following statement regarding Gov. Cooper’s announcement:
“Gov. Cooper’s announcement today is largely a continuation of the existing lockdown. A statewide stay-at-home order still remains in place, and nearly every business that applied for essential status has already been operating at limited capacity so long as they practice social distancing.
“We were told ‘flattening the curve’ to prevent overloading hospitals justified a lockdown. Hospitals are not overloaded, and in fact they’re laying people off.
“So what is the theory to support this plan – eliminate infections or just delay them? Gov. Cooper apparently disagrees with Colorado’s Democratic Governor and others who say that a continuing shutdown will not cause a peak in COVID-19 cases to be any less severe, it will only push it down the line.
“Today in North Carolina, over half of our counties comprise less than 10% of confirmed cases. Why is a blanket, one-size-fits-all statewide order justified? I’m concerned that Gov. Cooper is ignoring more reasonable approaches and the experiences of the majority of states.”