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North Carolina phase 2 will reopen restaurants, not bars

Gov. Roy Cooper (left) holds a press conference on May 20. Gov. Roy Cooper (left) holds a press conference on May 20.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced moments ago that he believes the state is ready to begin phase 2 of his three-phase reopening plan, although the increasing number of coronavirus cases warrants a more modest reopening than originally planned.

“Today we’re announcing another cautious and gradual step,” Cooper said during a 5 p.m. press conference.

The order comes less than two weeks after Cooper eased the state into phase 1. During that time, the state saw its highest one-day number of positive cases ever, with more than 850 reported on May 8 alone. The state has also seen no decline in the 14-day trajectory of positive cases or the seven-day rolling average, per North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The differences between phase 1 and phase 2 are great; beginning on Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m. the state’s “stay home” order will be lifted, although vulnerable populations are encouraged to continue staying home under what’s called a “safer at home” order. Public playgrounds, bars, concert venues, movie theaters and fitness facilities will remain closed. 

The number of people allowed at gatherings has been increased from 10 to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors. Stringent restrictions on nursing homes and congregant care settings will remain in place.

Probably the most noticeable difference between phase 1 and phase 2 is the limited reopening of restaurants.

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Guidance issued by the NCDHHS to restaurants covers social distancing and minimizing exposure, using cloth face coverings, maximizing cleaning and hygiene, monitoring for symptoms, protecting vulnerable populations, combating misinformation and proper utilization of water and ventilation systems.

The guidelines require restaurants to ensure social distancing by arranging seating that’s compliant with the 6-foot separation rule, both for indoor and outdoor settings. Groups must maintain the 6-foot distance from other groups unless they’re members of the same household.

Occupancy can be no more than 50% of fire code capacity, and it’s recommended that all employees and customers wear a cloth or disposable mask when they may be near others. Businesses are encouraged to provide these coverings to employees and customers.

Ongoing cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas like doors handrails and payment terminals is also required, as is frequent hand washing by staff.

It’s recommended that restaurants designate specific times for high-risk persons to access restaurants without the general public being present. It’s also recommended that employees who self identify as high-risk be reassigned to roles with minimal public contact.

Half an hour before Cooper’s 5 p.m. press conference, Haywood County reported another four confirmed positive cases, bringing the total to 32. One week prior, on May 13, there were 21 confirmed positive cases. A week before that, on May 5, there were 18.

A press release from Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger issued just before Cooper’s press conference said Berger was “glad the governor has responded to the calls of senators, small business owners and unemployed workers” but also chastised Cooper for not opening sooner.

"When I asked Gov. Cooper to reopen restaurants and personal care services last week, the Governor said it wasn’t safe to do so,” reads Berger’s release. “But according to data for yesterday, when the Governor began notifying people of his decision, North Carolina had more cases, more hospitalizations, and fewer tests performed than when I issued my call last week. It seems strange that it was unsafe to reopen last week, but it’s safe to reopen now with worse numbers. This gets back to the central question of what strategy is driving the Governor’s actions. What goal does he think is achievable?”

Read the full text of Gov. Cooper's phase 2 declaration here

Look for more on this developing story in the next issue of The Smoky Mountain News, available on stands and online on Wednesday, May 27.




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