Phases Aim To Aid Economy Safely

By Staff Reports, posted May 22, 2020
Krazy Mike’s, a downtown apparel and souvenir store in Wilmington, was open on a recent Friday afternoon. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
Included in our new lingo these days besides “social distanc­ing” (staying 6 feet apart) and COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) are “phase one,” “phase two” and “phase three,” describing North Car­olina’s reopening plan.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order related to phase one was in effect, potentially, until 5 p.m. May 22.
“However, the end of this Order does not necessarily mean the state will move to Phase 2. Phase 2 will only start if data and indicators are in the right place,” the order stated.
Those indicators include decreases in hospitalizations and new cases.
As of May 14, the state had more than 16,500 confirmed cases and more than 630 deaths related to the novel coronavirus, but those numbers were part of a downward trend.
Cooper on May 5 signed Execu­tive Order No. 138, which modified North Carolina’s stay-at-home order and explained its transition to phase one of slowly easing certain COVID-19 restrictions as of 5 p.m. May 8. Certain businesses remained closed, while others were able to open with limitations, as the state continued battling COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state, and Phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” Cooper stated in a news release May 5. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”
Easing of restrictions did not mean people could let their guard down, officials said.
“We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward. When you leave your home, follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Phase two 

Cooper and Cohen on May 20 announced that North Carolina would move into Safer At Home Phase 2 of lifting COVID-19 restrictions on May 22 at 5 pm. 

According to a news release, after two weeks in Phase 1, the state’s overall key indicators remained stable "but the continued increases in daily case counts signal a need to take a more modest step forward in Phase 2 than originally envisioned."

MASS GATHERINGS: Mass gathering limits in Phase 2 will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors in most circumstances. These limits apply to the following: event venues; conference centers; stadiums and sports arenas; amphitheaters; and groups at parks or beaches. 

SOME BUSINESSES STILL CLOSED: Some businesses will remain closed in Phase 2 including: bars; night clubs; gyms and indoor fitness facilities; indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, and bowling alleys. 

GUIDELINES FOR OPENINGS: Certain businesses will be open at limited capacity with other requirements and recommendations including: restaurants at 50% dine-in capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; personal care businesses, including salons and barbers, at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; pools at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings. 

CHILD CARE AND CAMPS: Childcare facilities, day camps and overnight camps will be open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements. Retail businesses allowed to open in Phase 1 at 50% capacity will continue at that level. 

Public health recommendations are provided for worship services to practice enhanced social distancing and other cleaning and hygiene practices.

Based on the metrics laid out in April by Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen, North Carolina is evaluating a combination of the data from the following categories that shows the state is stable but still has increasing daily new lab confirmed case counts.

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing. 

Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is increasing.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive has been decreasing and is starting to level. 

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level. 

In addition to these metrics, the state continues building capacity to be able to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread. These areas include:

Laboratory Testing 

  • North Carolina has more than doubled the daily testing rate with more than 8,000 tests completed daily on average. More than 300 testing sites across North Carolina are posted on the DHHS testing information website

Tracing Capability

  • The Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative has already hired more than 150 new contact tracers adding to the 250 already working at our local health departments. 

Personal Protective Equipment 

  • Supply chains continue to improve. 

What’s included in Safer At Home Phase 2?

Phase 2 lifts the Stay At Home order moving into a Safer At Home recommendation, especially for people at high risk for serious illness. Teleworking is also urged when possible. 

The Safer At Home Phase 2 runs through at least June 26.

Read NC DHHS guidance for various sectors. 

Read Frequently Asked Questions about Phase 2.

View the graphs and slides from the Phase 2 press conference.


What about phase three?

Previously, phase three would:
  • Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible;
  • Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships and entertainment venues;
  • Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings; and
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings.

Recovery without another outbreak?

“if there is a spike in infections, tightening of restrictions may be needed temporarily,” the order stated.
According to a state news release, phase one would be extended “unless data shows the state is prepared to move to Phase 2. Phase 2 will likely open more businesses to the public.”
Meanwhile, social distancing, hand hygiene and use of cloth face coverings were still being recommended.
“Depending on state COVID-19 trends, restrictions may be lifted more slowly or some restrictions might have to be re-instated to ensure the health and safety of North Carolinians,” according to the FAQ page.

Why were some restrictions lifted May 8?

The FAQ page states, “North Carolina is guided by data and science. State officials are monitoring key metrics to know when it is acceptable to move to the next phase of easing restrictions. This is a careful, deliberate process because removing all restrictions at once would cause a dangerous spike in infections that North Carolina has so far avoided.
“Public health experts and analyses indicate that if we gradually ease restrictions but keep safety practices in place, North Carolina can benefit from economic recovery without a renewed outbreak.”
Cooper and Cohen also announced on May 15 that DHHS now has a list of testing locations on the DHHS website. The list includes more than 200 sample collection sites in 54 counties, with more being added as they are verified.

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