Regional reopening approach being considered, Gov. Cooper says

CHARLOTTE — As of May 6, Mecklenburg County had tested 1,870 people for COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County.

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In Avery County, the number of people who have tested positive is zero. Despite the differences in cases, both Mecklenburg and Avery counties will follow the same restrictions when North Carolina enters Phase 1 of reopening on Friday.

In an interview with Eyewitness News reporter Joe Bruno, Gov. Roy Cooper said a regional reopening approach is on the table for the future.

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“We’re working to see if we can provide a regional approach to this,” Cooper said. “We think having a statewide floor is the most important thing we can do, and we are going to continue to work with local legislators and local elected officials as we move from phase to phase in trying to reignite our economy and keep people safe.”

While transmission of the virus is more likely in crowded urban areas, Cooper said he worries about healthcare facilities in rural areas becoming easily overwhelmed.

[CLICK HERE for an interview where Reporter Joe Bruno speaks with Gov. Cooper 1-on-1 about reopening NC]

“The virus doesn’t respect county lines. We know in some other states that have restrictions much more quickly than North Carolina, we’ve seen rural outbreaks,” he said. “We’ve seen a number of rural areas get hit by the virus and we know it can happen anytime.”

Phase 1 of eased restrictions starts at 5 p.m. Friday.

Phase 1 is like current restrictions in many ways, but there are some changes. More businesses, including malls, can reopen. Capacity for businesses can increase to 50%. People can have small outdoor gatherings if there are not more than 10 people. State parks can also reopen.

Churches are not permitted to reopen for indoor services in the first phase.

"When people are inside, whether it is a house of worship or any other meeting, and they are sitting or standing relatively close together for more than 10 minutes inside; the evidence of science shows the risk of transmission is so much higher," Cooper said.

Phase 1 also allows people to patronize hotels and short-term rentals. Cooper said he is pushing those businesses to create an atmosphere that is safe for vacationing families.

"These are choices that families will have to make as they go forward," Cooper said. "We're gonna push our businesses to do the right thing."

North Carolina is entering Phase 1 at a time when testing is still limited. In Mecklenburg County, not everyone who needs a test can get one. Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris is expected to announce a plan to increase testing capacity in the coming days. North Carolina is currently averaging 5,000 tests a day, according to Cooper. He said the state is hoping to have 10,000 tests a day soon.

“We have more and more opportunities for people to get tested,” he said. “That’s going to be a key anchor point to make sure we are going through these phases and easing restrictions in a responsible way. We are keeping public safety first and foremost when we are doing this. We are relying on evidence and data and part of that evidence is whether we can provide the testing we need.”