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Gov. Cooper lowers indoor gathering limit while announcing Phase 3 extension in North Carolina
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Gov. Cooper lowers indoor gathering limit while announcing Phase 3 extension in North Carolina

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RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state will remain in Phase 3 as coronavirus trends continue to surge and the holidays with its indoor gatherings approach.

The governor added he will reduce the limit on indoor gatherings from 25 people to 10.

“The science shows that the transmission of this virus is much greater indoors,” Cooper said. “And the more people who are gathered, the easier this virus can spread. We saw increasing spread from social gatherings in October.”

This is the second time he has extended Phase 3. The latest COVID-19 rules went into effect Oct. 2 and allowed bars, entertainment venues, movie theaters and large outdoor arenas to reopen with limited capacity. Those rules were extended Oct. 21 and are set to expire Friday.

Cooper and health officials have voiced concerns about seeing a new spike in cases that could overwhelm hospitals as more people gather indoors, people experience coronavirus “fatigue” and don’t adhere to guidelines.

But Cooper has said he does not want to go backward and reinstate certain restrictions. Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, embrace a “dimmer switch” analogy to describe how the state will ease restrictions over time, depending on the state’s trends of cases, tests, hospitalizations and people with COVID-19-like symptoms.

N.C. DHHS Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state’s trajectory of new cases remains too high and encourages limited holiday gatherings with face masks on among people not in the same household.

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“Bottom line, we are on shaky ground as we head into Thanksgiving,” Cohen said.

The announcement comes as North Carolina has reached a record-high seven-day average for new coronavirus reports: 2,405.

As of Wednesday, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 297,442 total cases of COVID-19 in the state and 4,660 deaths.

The state also reported 1,230 statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, the second highest total since the pandemic began, The News & Observer reported.

More than 4.4 million people have been tested. As of Monday, there are 261,719 cases presumed recovered.

The surges have been seen nationwide. Johns Hopkins University says the country has now passed 10 million cases.

Neighboring state Virginia is currently under its own third phase of reopening and also has a statewide mask mandate. In South Carolina, instead of a statewide mask mandate, the governor has urged cities and counties to pass their own mask ordinances.

Under Phase 3, bars were allowed to reopen, but outside only, and with restrictions. Capacity restrictions have remained in place for restaurants and entertainment venues. Under Phase 3, gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

Last week, Cooper and Cohen said North Carolinians can level out cases like they did during the summer if they continue to follow the “3 Ws” of waiting six feet apart, wearing a mask and washing their hands.

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