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Slowly reopening

North Carolina begins Phase I Friday

POLK COUNTY—North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he signed Executive Order No. 138 to modify the state’s stay-at-home order and to begin Phase I of reopening the state’s businesses effective Friday, May 8 at 5 p.m.

The order removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses and while retail businesses will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, some businesses will still remain closed through phase I including bars, personal care businesses, entertainment venues and gyms. Restaurants will still be required to only offer drive-through, take-out and delivery services.

In South Carolina, restaurants and bars were allowed to begin offering outdoor dining as of Monday, including for food and alcohol.

Cooper’s order Tuesday allows people to leave their homes for commercial reasons at any business that is open.

The order allows many businesses to be open at 50 percent capacity and they will be required to direct customers to remain 6 ft. apart, to perform frequent cleanings, to provide hand sanitizer when available and to screen workers for symptoms.

“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state, and Phase I is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” Governor Cooper said Tuesday. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”

Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen said the state must continue to protect its families and neighbors and urged people to follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands and wait 6 feet apart.

All workers at retail and other businesses are recommended to wear cloth face coverings and teleworking is still encouraged for businesses that can do so.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.

During phase I, childcare facilities will be open for families of parents who are working or are looking for work, with the facilities required to follow strict cleaning protocols.

Cooper and Cohen said that the state’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing; that the state’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over the last 2 weeks is slightly increasing; that the state’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive over the last 2 weeks is decreasing and the state’s trajectory of hospitalizations over the past 2 weeks is level.

The state has also doubled its daily testing rate and supply chains for personal protective equipment continues to improve with the exception of gowns, according to state officials.

Tuesday’s order is in effect until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. The state could then move to phase 2, but only if data and indicators allow.