‘Low-risk’ activities encouraged as North Carolina enters first phase of reopening

State - Regional

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As North Carolina prepares to move into the first phase of lifting restrictions under the stay-at-home order on Friday, state health officials say they wanted to include “low-risk” activities in that phase as they monitor the spread of COVID-19.

Phase one allows for the reopening of parks and trails as well as for more businesses to open, but at 50 percent capacity. Essential businesses are currently allowed to operate at 20 percent capacity under an executive order.

“We wanted to include things in phase one that we felt were lower-risk activities in terms of transmitting the virus. So, we wanted to focus on activities that if you were indoors that you were largely moving around,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, in an interview with CBS17 Wednesday.

In phase one, a variety of businesses will remain closed including hair and nail salons, movie theaters, and gyms as well as playgrounds.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R), who is running against Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in this year’s gubernatorial race, released a statement Wednesday criticizing the phase one plan.

“The Governor’s Phase 1 rollout makes it clear that he feels that only he can protect us from this virus. He does not believe that North Carolinians have enough self-control, restraint, or common sense to act responsibly in a world with COVID-19,” he said. “If we are able to social distance outside at parks, why are we not able to do the same in outdoor seating at restaurants? If we are able to congregate at 50% capacity in a big box store, why can we not do the same with social distancing at our houses of worship? It is way past due for the Governor to shift strategies and put measures in place that restore our freedoms in a responsible manner.”

Phase one allows for worship services to take place outside. However, indoor services are still subject to the 10-person limit on mass gatherings.

“But, we know when we’re going to any worship services, we’re sitting down. And, we’re sitting down for prolonged periods of time. Those are higher-risk activities. Then, if we were outside, there’s more airflow and you’re touching fewer doorknobs and pews and such,” said Dr. Cohen.

Under the three-phase plan Gov. Cooper outlined last month, phase two would begin two to three weeks after phase one begins. At the earliest, that would be May 22.

Phase two allows for salons to reopen and restaurants to offer dine-in service, but that would still happen at a limited capacity. It’s not clear what the limits would be.

Cohen said in moving into phase one, the state has seen a “sustained leveling” in some of the metrics tied to the spread of COVID-19. The percent of positive tests for COVID-19 out of all tests conducted as trended downward since mid-April, according to DHHS. At the same time, hospitalizations have trended upward.

“When we’re looking at it, we want to see a combination of metrics. And, you’re right, we’re gonna see ebbs and flows. What I’m looking for is overall stability. I’m not looking for a perfect score. I’m not looking for straight As,” she said. “Little ups and downs here are not the things that are going to worry me, but big surges, bigger changes are the things we really need to pay attention to.”

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