Roy Cooper Aug. 26

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks about the state’s budget proposal and coronavirus cases during a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Sept. 1 announced that North Carolina will move into "Safer at Home Phase 2.5," easing COVID-19 restrictions on more types of businesses and increasing the limits for gatherings.

"Because of our stable numbers, today we are ready to take a careful step forward," Cooper said during a press briefing in Raleigh. "I want to be clear — we can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works — wearing masks and social distancing. Moving to Phase 2.5 means we can safely do a few more things while still fighting the virus as vigorously as ever."

The new phase begins at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, and expires at 5 p.m. on Oct. 2 unless extended or modified. Limits on mass gatherings will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, Cooper said. Gyms and other indoor exercise facilities — such as yoga studios, martial arts and rock climbing, as well as skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball and volleyball — can open at 30 percent capacity.

Playgrounds will be allowed to open, and museums and aquariums can open at 50 percent capacity. The age requirement for mask wearing will include children as young as age 5.

In addition, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen issued a secretarial order allowing for outdoor visitation at nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities. To participate, nursing homes must meet several requirements, including, but not limited, not having a current outbreak, having a testing plan and updated written Infection Control or Preparedness plan for COVID-19, and having adequate personal protective equipment.

The secretarial order is effective at 5 p.m. Sept. 4 and remains in effect through Sept. 22.

Capacity limits at restaurants and personal care businesses such as hair and nail salons will stay the same, Cooper said, but with additional safety measures required. The governor announced on Aug. 31 that the curfew prohibiting restaurants from selling alcohol after 11 p.m. would be extended through Oct. 2.

Businesses that will remain closed under Phase 2.5 include bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment venues and amusement parks. Large venues will still be subject to the mass gathering limits.

"We know big gatherings are among the most dangerous settings for transmission of this deadly virus," Cooper said.

Cohen reported that overall, the state's key COVID-19 metrics show stability. Patients presenting with COVID-19-like symptoms have been on the decline for over a month. The numbers of new cases reported each day peaked in mid-July, then declined, then saw another increase in mid-August as colleges reopened, Cohen said. She noted that cases have been stabilizing over the past 14 days, but new cases remain at a level that is still too high.

The percentage of tests that are positive has remained stable, Cohen said, but she would like to see the percentage at 5 percent or less. The number of people hospitalized with the virus statewide has been declining since peaking in late July, and the state has "sufficient" hospital capacity, she said.

"After a summer of hard work, we’ve seen North Carolina’s key indicators for COVID-19 remain stable, or even decrease in some instances," Cooper said. "Our pause in Phase 2 was necessary as students returned to school and college campuses."

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