CHARLOTTE — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this week that bars, amusement parks and movie theaters can partially reopen starting on Friday under a new Phase 3 order.
The updated executive order that will remain in effect through Oct. 23 also allows fans to attend outdoor sporting events. Venues with more than 10,000 seats can operate at 7% capacity, while those with 10,000 or fewer people can open to 100 people or operate at 30% capacity, whichever is less.
But the increased reopening comes with restrictions on businesses as the state’s coronavirus case numbers have held steady but at higher-than-desired levels.
Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, warned that the state’s progress in dealing with COVID-19 is “fragile.” Cooper acknowledged the concerns and pleaded with North Carolinians to comply with the state’s mask mandate and other safety measures.
“The key indicators we watch in North Carolina remain mostly stable, but I have to tell you that we see warning signs that the disease could spike again here and across the country,” Cooper said. “The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically and responsibly.”
Under Phase 3, those businesses will be allowed to open to 30% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
Though bars will now be able to open, the statewide 11 p.m. alcohol curfew will remain in place until at least Oct. 23. If a bar doesn’t have a stated outdoor occupancy, no more than seven guests are allowed for every 1,0000 square feet of the outdoor area’s square footage.
No alcohol can be consumed indoors at bars so places like Jeff’s Bucket Shop on Montford Street will continue to struggle because the business does not have suitable patio space.
“It is not fair,” owner Michaele Laria said. “It is emotionally, physically, financially debilitating.”
The stage is quiet, the bar is empty, and the money is running dry as they stay closed during the pandemic.
“I miss the people,” Laria said. “I miss the sense of community. I miss the music. The music is therapy. Karaoke is therapy for people.”
Bills have been piling up as Laria watches customers spend money elsewhere along the popular street, filled with restaurants and bars.
“You take your paycheck from March 16 and you make it go away,” Laria said. “You don’t have a paycheck from March 16 to present day and see how you like it -- when everyone else is open and doing business and packing their places out and having fun with our customers.”
Some places will be able to reopen, including Hattie’s in east Charlotte.
The bar has been closed since March and owner Jackie DeLoach is excited to welcome back patrons to their patio.
“I am really excited we are able to open,” DeLoach said. “I have been waiting for this for a while. Glad we can now be a part of all of the other drinking establishments that can now see patrons back again. But it is a little difficult because it is at such a small capacity in a place that doesn’t already have a big capacity.”
The N.C. Bar and Tavern Association released a statement saying 30% outdoor-only bar reopening is pointless and Cooper chose an unworkable path.
In addition, as Cooper announced last week, all outdoor stadiums that can seat more than 10,000 people will only be allowed to open to 7% capacity.
“I believe that North Carolina can do this safely. But so I am clear, every gathering carries the risk of spreading this disease,” Cooper said. “Being safe means being smart and making sure others around you are doing the same.”
Last week, Cooper announced that outdoor event venues could open for up to 7% capacity. He indicated that if numbers continued to trend positively, more restrictions could be lifted.
Phase 2.5 is set to expire on Friday at 5 p.m. Phase 3 is scheduled to last through Oct. 23.
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During the Wednesday briefing, Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen cited COVID-19 metrics that have remained stable throughout September, despite gyms, museums, aquariums, playgrounds and schools opening at the beginning of the month.
However, Cohen said the metrics are “fragile.”
“We are going to need to double down on our work in order to slow this virus down,” she said.
Cooper said officials were “cautiously encouraged” by where North Carolina currently is but warned of a potential future spike.
“Our top priority remains getting children back to in-person learning. This month marks a major shift for many families now and in the coming months as schools open their doors, some for the first time since the pandemic,” said Cooper. “The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically, and responsibly.”
Cooper, who has adopted a self-described “dimmer switch” approach to reopening, has long kept many businesses closed in an effort to reduce coronavirus transmission and pave the way for K-12 public school students to resume in-person classes.
The governor earlier this month announced individual districts can choose to move to daily in-person classes for elementary school students starting on Monday. But in Wednesday’s news conference, Cooper did not provide a timetable for when the same opportunity would be afforded to students between the sixth and 12th grades.
“Don’t have a timeline on it, but just know that it remains a priority for us,” Cooper said.
In the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force Report to governors, which ABC News obtained earlier this week, North Carolina was listed in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning the state reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a week. The state was also listed in the “yellow zone” for tests, indicating a percent positivity rate between 5.0% and 7.9%.
Dr. Cohen reviewed the state’s key metrics:
Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness has a slight increase.
Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is level.
Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is level.
Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
- North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level.
Bar and movie theatre owners have repeatedly expressed their frustrations that they have been left out of previous reopening phases. However, Cooper and Cohen have defended their decisions to keep these businesses closed, touting the successes of their slow, “dimmer switch” reopening plan.
State legislators tried several times to pass bills that would allow bars to reopen with limited capacity, however, Cooper vetoed each attempt.
Another industry that has been negatively impacted by the pandemic has been airlines. Revenue is expected to fall from $838 billion to $419 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association.
The association expects it would take a couple of years to rebound, but business at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport has started to already pick up.
That could take another step back soon as several airlines are expected to start layoffs and furloughs this week.
The new Phase 3 executive order begins Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. and continues for three weeks. Its new provisions include:
- Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7% occupancy for spectators.
- Smaller outdoor entertainment venues, like arenas or amphitheaters, 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 guests, whichever is less.
- Bars may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Amusement parks may open at 30% occupancy, outdoor attractions only.
- The limits on mass gatherings will remain at 25 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 to October 23.
“We recognize that outdoor capacity is not always a thing that someone is zoned for, so, yes, we sort of have a proxy for what does about 30% of a space look like,” Cohen said. “That’s how we came up with the 7-per-1,000-foot guidance that you see in the executive order today.”
When the executive order goes into effect on Friday, movie theaters will be able to allow patrons into theaters at 30% capacity or 100 guests per screen, whichever is less.
Outdoor amusement parks can operate at 30% capacity but must adhere to the state’s mass gathering limits, which will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
On Sept. 4, the state moved into Phase 2.5, which allowed gyms and several other establishments to reopen, while loosening restrictions at places that were already operating.
Mass gathering limits increased to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors under Phase 2.5. Gyms and indoor exercise facilities, such as yoga studios, martial arts, and rock climbing, as well as skating rinks and bowling alleys, were able to open at 30% capacity.
Playgrounds were also allowed to reopen.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its COVID-19 guidance for places of worship and shared a toolkit to support faith leaders in slowing the spread of the virus.
The updated guidance recommends that places of worship continue to meet online or outside if possible. If in-person services are held, NCDHHS recommends limiting gatherings to 30% of occupancy or 100 people, whichever is less.
“While the pandemic is global, the way we slow the spread of this virus is local, through on-the-ground action and shared responsibility. This new toolkit helps clergy of all faiths to double down on their efforts to protect our communities as we navigate this unprecedented time,” said Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D.
A new online toolkit is available to help faith leaders slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. It includes 10 actions faith leaders can take with supporting materials and templates. Actions include:
- Follow NCDHHS guidance for places of worship to protect your community.
- Keep your congregation and faith community informed about prevention, testing, contact tracing and community supports.
- Urge community members to “Get Behind the Mask.”
- Encourage your congregation to download and use the mobile app SlowCOVIDNC.
- Urge your congregation to get tested for COVID-19 if they have symptoms or think they’ve been exposed.
- Host a testing event in your community.
- Help connect people to resources and supports.
- Distribute masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Encourage people to participate in contact tracing.
- Amplify messages on social media.
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