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North Carolina moves to Phase 3, but COVID progress is ‘fragile’

By Bryan Anderson

Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Wednesday that bars, amusement parks and movie theaters can partially reopen starting on Friday under a new Phase 3 order.

The updated executive order that will remain in effect through Oct. 23 also allows fans to attend outdoor sporting events. Venues with more than 10,000 seats can operate at 7% capacity, while those with 10,000 or fewer people can open to 100 people or operate at 30% capacity, whichever is less.

But the increased reopening comes with restrictions on businesses as the state’s coronavirus case numbers have held steady but at higher-than-desired levels.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, warned that the state’s progress in dealing with COVID-19 is “fragile.” Cooper acknowledged the concerns and pleaded with North Carolinians to comply with the state’s mask mandate and other safety measures.

“The key indicators we watch in North Carolina remain mostly stable, but I have to tell you that we see warning signs that the disease could spike again here and across the country,” Cooper said. “The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically and responsibly.”

Cooper, who has adopted a self-described “dimmer switch” approach to reopening, has long kept many businesses closed in an effort to reduce coronavirus transmission and pave the way for K-12 public school students to resume in-person classes.

The governor earlier this month announced individual districts can choose to move to daily in-person classes for elementary school students starting on Monday. But in Wednesday’s news conference, Cooper did not provide a timetable for when the same opportunity would be afforded to students between the sixth and 12th grades.

“Don’t have a timeline on it, but just know that it remains a priority for us,” Cooper said.

North Carolina’s transition to Phase 3 begins at 5 p.m. Friday with restrictions on certain businesses. Bars, which have not been allowed to reopen in the state since the start of the pandemic, will only be allowed to resume operations outdoors at either 30% capacity or 100 patrons, whichever is less.

Bars without a stated fire capacity, though, can only have seven guests for every 1000 square feet of the location’s total square footage.

“We recognize that outdoor capacity is not always a thing that someone is zoned for, so, yes, we sort of have a proxy for what does about 30% of a space look like,” Cohen said. “That’s how we came up with the 7-per-1,000-foot guidance that you see in the executive order today.”

Cooper said the 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption will remain in place.

When the executive order goes into effect on Friday, movie theaters will be able to allow patrons into theaters at 30% capacity or 100 guests per screen, whichever is less.

Outdoor amusement parks can operate at 30% capacity but must adhere to the state’s mass gathering limits, which will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

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