In North Carolina, we’ve just finished our first weekend of the new Phase 3 of reopening. It only took effect this past Friday. It might be early on, but here are the things to know about the newest reopening phase.
When Did North Carolina Start Phase 3?
The new phase began on Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. It ended Phase 2.5, which had begun Sept. 4 and lasted nearly a month. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the state’s reopening transition during a press conference on Sept. 30. “North Carolina will ease cautiously some restrictions while continuing safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 as the state’s metrics remained stable in September,” he said in a statement. His office also released simultaneous tweets to spread the news.
Why Has the State Entered Phase 3?
Well, we’ve seen continued weeks of hitting the most crucial COVID-19 metrics. Kelly Haight, communications manager at the state’s Dept. of Health and Human Services, explained the four trends back on Sept. 25. And the state’s press release mentions them again:
- The number of confirmed cases in NC (this figure has remained level).
- The rate of positive COVID-19 tests in NC (this percentage has remained level).
- The number of hospitalizations in NC (this figure has remained level).
- The number of COVID-like illnesses in NC (this figure has increased slightly).
The Dept. of Health and Human Services also claims that the waiting period after tests is decreasing (for more efficient testing). New testing centers will deploy around NC, protective COVID-19 gear has a steady supply and health departments have stepped up their contract-tracing efforts to monitor the virus. The state’s recent “SlowCOVIDNC” app (available to download free) is one example of those tracing efforts.
In short, according to Gov. Cooper and North Carolina’s key metrics, we’ll enter Phase 3 because the state has reached something like stability. Not that we’ve gotten out of the woods; the approach is called “dimmer switch,” not “lights out.”
What Changes with Phase 3?
Bars, indoor venues and outdoor arenas will see loosened restrictions compared to Phase 2.5. But not everything has changed. Let’s get into the specifics of the state’s new policies, which will last until Oct. 23.
Entertainment venues can reopen to partial capacity.
Outdoor arenas that seat more than 10,000 people can now allow 7% occupancy (think of football stadiums). Smaller outdoor arenas (think amphitheaters and amusement parks) can reopen to 30%. As for indoor entertainment venues (think movie theaters and conference centers) — they also return to 30% capacity, though their limits stop at 100 people.
Bars can reopen to partial capacity.
But only for outdoors seating, and only to 30% capacity. Like the entertainment venues, bars can allow no more than 100 people total (if 30% capacity would become more than 100).
However, gathering size limits and restricted alcohol sales will remain in place.
You can’t have more than 25 people indoors, and you can’t have more than 50 people outside either. As for the limited alcohol sales — you still can’t purchase booze to drink it on-site. That limit does include the bars which have just opened (along with restaurants), as a speed-bump to their reopening news.
What Does Phase 3 Mean for North Carolina?
Only a few days into the new policy, we can’t say for sure. But we have seen surges in COVID-19 cases with increased reopening before, and when they surge, the economy slows. At least, that’s what economist Dr. Michael Walden has said about North Carolina’s economic outlook. Though we might’ve seen an economic rebound, we have to watch unemployment and GDP figures to see if they rise or plunge with these loosened restrictions. Not to mention whether we keep enjoying outdoor venues (it’s fall, and the weather will cool).
According to the governor, Phase 3 means continued vigilance against COVID-19’s spread. “I believe that North Carolina can do this safely,” Gov. Cooper said. “But so I am clear, every gathering carries the risk of spreading this disease. Being safe means being smart and making sure others are doing the same.” Hence, the somewhat-limited changes which North Carolina in Phase 3.
Make sure to keep up with the COVID-19 explanations you need, especially as our state responses develop.