The Labor Day weekend will begin with an easing of COVID-19 restrictions at public places, according to Phase 2.5 of the Cooper administration’s reopening plan, announced today.
Beginning Friday, Sept. 4, at 5 p.m., gyms, bowling alleys and other indoor exercise facilities can open at 30% capacity. Museums and aquariums are allowed to open at 50%. Playgrounds will also open, although children age 5 and older must wear masks in public. Capacity limits at restaurants remain the same.
The limits on mass gatherings will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
While state health officials recommend that public schools refrain from holding contact sporting events, like soccer and football, non-contact sports, such as tennis, can continue with no more than 50 spectators. Those attendees must also wear masks and socially distance.
Nursing homes will also allow outdoor visitation for the first time in nearly six months.
Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment centers and amusement parks will remain closed. The current restaurants must stop selling alcohol is in effect until Oct. 2.
Gov. Roy Cooper said that while the number of new COVID-19 cases is still higher than optimal, Phase 2.5 is appropriate because “key indicators remain stable.”
“But stability isn’t victory,” Cooper said.
North Carolina has reported a total of 169,425 lab-confirmed cases; 2,741 people have died.
On Sept. 1, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported 2,111 new cases, a level that Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen called “too high.”
DHHS said 953 people are hospitalized. The hospitalization rate has declined overall since late July, although the numbers are still elevated.
Similarly, the percentage of emergency room visits for COVID-like illness has declined since peaking in July, but it’s still well above the baseline.
There is sufficient hospital capacity, Cohen said.
North Carolina has been in Phase 2 for six weeks. “Our pause in Phase 2 was necessary as students returned to school and colleges,” Gov. Cooper said.
Shortly after the case counts began to stabilize, large colleges campuses opened, especially those in the UNC System, where there were outbreaks among college students. In mid-August, Cohen said, the number of positive cases increased among people ages 18 to 24.
Many campuses sent students back home for distance learning. Those who tested positive or were ill were encouraged to stay on campus to prevent community spread, Cohen said. “We’re watching the trend closely.”
The economy is one driver behind the administration’s move to Phase 2.5. “We want to do things to spur the economy and to encourage people to exercise,” Cooper said. “We know people are hurting. The more we do to slow down the virus, the faster we can let everything open.”
The state unemployment rate in July was 8.9%, up from the previous month’s figure of 7.7%. Both numbers are below the peak in May, when the rate was 12.7%. However, there could be undercounting because some people may have given up on looking for work; the statistics also don’t include people who are underemployed.