Gyms, playgrounds, bowling alleys: Here’s what can reopen in NC under Phase 2.5

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina moved into Safer at Home Phase 2.5 Friday -- another step toward reopening the Carolinas.

After months in “Phase 2: Safer at Home,” Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a news conference Tuesday that North Carolina would take a modest step forward into “Phase 2.5: Safer at Home,” which rolls back some restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the state.

The new phase started at 5 p.m. Friday and will run through Oct. 2.

The directive announced Tuesday by Cooper allows gyms, bowling alleys and other indoor recreational facilities to open at a reduced 30% capacity, but keeps other businesses that have been shuttered for months closed longer as the state works toward a Phase 3 reopening.

Citing flattening numbers of COVID-19 cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive, Cooper said North Carolina was equipped to further open its economy. Cooper has kept Phase 2 in effect since late May.

“Because of our stable numbers, we’re ready to take a careful step forward,” Cooper said in a news conference.

“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Cooper said. “We can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works — wearing masks and social distancing. In fact, a new phase is exactly when we need to take this virus even more seriously.”

Mask mandates and the statewide alcohol curfew, which requires restaurants to stop serving alcoholic beverages at 11 p.m. remain in effect.

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North Carolina had been in Phase 2 of Cooper’s three-part plan to reopen businesses since May 22. The phase reopened indoor dining at restaurants, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and pools, but excluded gyms, bars, movie theaters and amusement parks, which have been closed since March 30, when Cooper first issued an executive order.

Phase 2.5 reopens gyms and indoor exercise facilities, which have endured legal challenges with the state to reopen since Cooper closed them in March. At one point, some fitness chains announced they were reopening through an exception to serve customers with medical needs to exercise.

Restaurants are not permitted to add more customers, as capacity remains restricted to 50%. Capacity limitations also continue for salons.

The phase also increases mass gathering limits from 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors to 25 indoors and 50 outdoors. Cooper’s directive allows playgrounds to reopen and museums and aquariums to operate at 50% capacity.

Queen Park Social in the popular Loso neighborhood is kind of unique in that it’s a restaurant, bar and bowling alley all in one -- so this move to Phase 2.5 is significant for them.

Channel 9 talked to the General Manager, Brad Byrd, who said they’re ready for the new phase.

“Being able to open the bar top and being able to open bowling, that’s gonna be a big deal for us,” Byrd said.

Here’s what’s open under Phase 2.5:

  • Playgrounds
  • Museums and aquariums (50% capacity)
  • Gyms and indoor exercise facilities, such as yoga studios, martial arts and rock climbing, as well as skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball, volleyball etc. (30% capacity)

Here’s what remains closed under Phase 2.5

  • Bars, nightclubs and dance halls
  • Movie theaters and indoor entertainment facilities
  • Amusement parks

The governor cited what he called new and emerging science showing that the new coronavirus doesn’t spread as easily on surfaces and instead is more prone to spread by respiratory droplets.

This is the first time Cooper has eased restrictions since North Carolina moved into Phase 2, which was extended three times with Cooper saying new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were still trending in the wrong direction.

During the news conference, the governor said he is now pleased with how the trends and metrics have stabilized overall across the state, despite the recent rise in cases since colleges and universities reopened this month.

The state has suffered some recent COVID-19 setbacks, as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University reverted to online classes only after reporting several clusters on and off campus involving students.

The Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen asked for anyone who is leaving Chapel Hill to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival home.

“Err on the side of caution here,” Cohen said. “If you are going home to your parent’s house and they are older, they are at higher risk. It is a good idea for 14 days to keep your distance from there.”

One day before Cooper announcement, Channel 9′s Joe Bruno spoke with Cohen, who said the state’s numbers have now stabilized at a level to where it can start reopening.

“We’ve always said we are going to continue to look at our metrics and our trends and we want to continue to make progress. I think North Carolinians have been working hard to keep our viral spread stable. I think we have made progress,” she said.

She credited the mask mandate for helping get the state to a point where things can be lifted a little sooner than originally planned.

Phase 2 order was set to run through Sept. 11, but Cooper’s announcement moved that timeline up by one week with Phase 2.5 starting Friday at 5 p.m.

“What I am looking for is the constant vigilance,” Cohen said. “I think the first couple of weeks everyone is going to be on their best behavior. Maybe a month in, we are going to be really good. What I worry about is then, we are going to slack off on the 3 Ws. Because we are human. We are people. We are not perfect. But I think we are just going to have to keep at it and that is the challenge.”

At the news conference Tuesday, Cohen shared an update on North Carolina’s data trends, which are either remaining stable or declining.

“As we take modest steps forward today, it’s important to remember that moving forward doesn’t mean letting up on slowing the spread of the virus. Our progress is fragile and we need to maintain focus on the 3Ws especially as we head into flu season,” she said.

Cooper said the mandate for face coverings will stay in place. If people continue to follow health protocols, he said, he doesn’t anticipate a surge in cases as more businesses open.

For months, North Carolina had remained in its second phase of reopening, drawing the ire of some Republicans who worry the state has been too slow to reopen.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is looking to unseat Cooper this November, questioned whether the governor’s decision is being driven by science or politics and said other states have been able to safely open more businesses.

“Other states have their businesses and schools open,” Forest said in a news release. “It’s time for fear and panic to be replaced with hope and opportunity. It’s time for Governor Cooper to actually protect the most vulnerable and give North Carolinians their freedoms and livelihoods back.”

In addition to easing some restrictions, leaders are also allowing outdoor visitation at nursing homes.

To participate, nursing homes must meet several requirements, including, but not limited, not having a current outbreak, having a testing plan and updated written Infection Control or Preparedness plan for COVID-19, and having adequate personal protective equipment.

Entertainment venues react to being left out of Cooper’s Phase 2.5

North Carolina is opening gyms at 30% capacity. Other businesses like bowling alleys -- rock-climbing and skating rinks -- can do the same. Gatherings can be up to 25 people indoors and 50 outside.

Places like bars and concert venues have to stay closed. Some in the industry say venues may not survive to see the end of this phase.

Outside of The Filmore and The Underground, there’s still a list of upcoming concerts for March 2020, as if the two venues were frozen in time. But there’s been some activity. The Filmore is using its space to give back by hosting blood drives, but there hasn’t been one concert since March.

Chris Ozment used to help build the crowds for shows by marketing at The Filmore and other Live Nation venues in the Southeast.

“I think all the local venues are feeling it and we love all of the local venues around town,” he said.

At The Evening Muse, some shows are streaming live. Local artist, Alexa Johnson, sang to a mostly empty room at the Muse the last few weeks; but a crowd of 2,500 people saw the livestream. However, it’s just not the same for owners and artists, nor are the dollars that a live, in-person show brings in to pay bands, event staff, servers, bartenders, and sound engineers.

Ozment enjoys many of the shows at local venues much smaller than The Filmore.

“I miss music. I miss watching bands on stage,” he said.

And now, some of the smaller venues in Charlotte say they’re on the brink of going under. Gregg McCraw found early support during the pandemic when supporters raised thousands for the Neighborhood Theatre. But that money is running low and it’s worse for other venues.

“A lot of the venues are down to not months, but weeks left of survival,” he said.

Joe Kuhlmann, a co-owner of The Evening Muse, and McCraw hope a petition called “Save Charlotte Stages,” will help. It’s calling on the local government to provide venues with financial assistance.

Kuhlmann said, “We hear there’s plenty of cares act money out there. Sure would be nice for some of that to show up since we’re the ones being forced to stay closed.”

Even if venues could reopen, many bands pushed back their tours to the summer and fall of next year.