RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina will stay in Phase Two of reopening for at least three more weeks.
Plans had called for Phase Two possibly ending Friday, but it will stay in effect at least until Aug. 7, Cooper said during a Tuesday news conference.
“Our virus trends are not spiking like some other states,” Cooper said Tuesday. “We have hospital capacity and our percent positive is still high, but it’s steady. However, our numbers are still troubling, and they could jump higher in the blink of an eye.”
In late June, Cooper extended Phase Two of the reopening plan to July 17 at the earliest.
Cooper’s announcement came the same day he announced how the state’s public schools will reopen when most students are expected back Aug. 17. They will operate with a hybrid of in-person and online learning with an option for all online instruction.
The state monitors several benchmarks, including hospitalizations, positive cases and testing, to determine when North Carolina can lift restrictions that have been in place for months.
Despite efforts to control the spread, the pace of infections has been increasing since May. New coronavirus cases increased 31.8% in the first 14 days in July compared to the last 14 days in June.
North Carolina hospitals consistently report records of COVID-19 patients. The state hit a new record Tuesday, with at least 1,109 people with COVID-19 in hospitals, The News & Observer reported. The state hit a daily record of new coronavirus cases Saturday.
More than 440 of the state’s 1,552 COVID-19 deaths have come in the past four weeks. North Carolina added 42 people to the death toll on Tuesday.
Monday, DHHS reported 67,124 patients presumed to be recovered, according to a weekly report.
Cooper responds to data
On June 26, Cooper mandated masks in public and also delayed a step in the planned gradual relaxation of limits on business and leisure activities.
He also has vetoed bills that would have allowed bars, gyms, bowling alleys and amusement parks to reopen. Republican legislators have criticized the reopening plan as too slow and not taking enough account of safety measures businesses are willing to implement.
Phase Two allows salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors to open at 50% capacity. Restaurants, which had previously been limited to takeout and delivery, are allowed to open their dining rooms at 50% capacity. Mass gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.
Cooper said he is troubled by businesses in the state that remain unable to open under Phase Two and wants to get them operating as soon as possible.
But he noted a steady uptick in the number of cases, hospitalizations and emergency room patients with COVID-19 symptoms.
“Those numbers continue to be concerning, and we don’t want to start easing these restrictions with those numbers so high,” he said.
Growth in cases among young people
Despite the restrictions, data shows coronavirus cases among people ages 18 to 49 have dramatically increased and now have the most cases in North Carolina.
“When you’re younger, you feel more invincible,” N.C. health secretary Mandy Cohen said at a news conference last month. “When we see more spread in our younger folks, who may not get quite as sick, they are still risks to those that would get more sick.”
Orange County is now limiting alcohol and dining-room sales after 10 p.m. at restaurants, private clubs and other food-service establishments.
Charlotte is considering a similar requirement with Mecklenburg County experiencing the most cases across the state.
Cooper said these kinds of limits are a good idea for some communities, especially in college towns where students are returning for the fall semester.
“We want local governments to make those decisions,” he said, but they are also among the actions the state could take.