Don’t let the sixth month of COVID-19 let you forget: we still have plans for further reopening. Though Phase 2 lasted longer than we expected, Phase 3 remains on our horizon in North Carolina. But what could the phase actually bring, and when can we expect it?
North Carolina Began Phase 2.5 Earlier This Month
Phase 3 feels far away because Gov. Roy Cooper announced Phase 2.5 back on Sept. 4. That announcement technically ended Phase 2, which had taken effect on May 20. But the literal halfway-measures of Phase 2.5 loosened state restrictions only slightly.
It brought increases in both indoor and outdoor gathering sizes, reopening of public playgrounds, reopening of museums and (at last) the reopening of gyms to 30% capacity. But many of the previous restrictions remain: bars, night clubs, dance halls, and theaters stayed closed, and all other businesses kept their capacity limits.
However, Phase 2.5 might expire at five p.m. on Oct. 2. At least, according to the original plan from Sept. 4. But we could see Gov. Cooper extend this phase, since our state hasn’t quite gotten out of the woods yet.
NC sits in the middle of the pack with COVID-19 metrics.
The CDC’s national graphic rated North Carolina “orange” this week. That rating comes from the number of cases in the last week (we’ve had 8,662) and deaths per 100,000 people (we’ve had 31/100k). Overall, the state dashboard shows 196,501 cases and 912 people currently hospitalized.
While our metrics don’t come in last nationally, they don’t reach first place either. Kelly Haight, communications manager at the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, commented on the state’s plans. “We’ve made progress in North Carolina and avoided the surges seen in other states,” she said, “and as our numbers stabilize and go down, the state will continue a dimmer switch approach to lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”
Haight named the specific COVID-19 metrics to watch for “dimmer switch approach.” She gave four trends: trends in confirmed cases over 14 days, trends in positive test results over 14 days, trends in hospitalizations over 14 days, and trends in COVID-like illnesses over 14 days.
Note the two-week snapshot for each metric. That has been the usual time period NC has used for COVID-19 decisions since March. If that window shows improvements in cases, positive cases, hospitalization, and illness-monitoring, we could see Phase 3 begin when Phase 2.5 expires Oct. 2.
What We Could Expect for Phase 3
Gov. Cooper and Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen held a press conference on Sept. 22 to update us on our COVID-19 outlook. They didn’t announce whether Phase 3 will take begin at the end of next week. But they did mention new initiatives for the state’s COVID-19 recovery, which could hint at new policies the phase would bring.
For one, outdoor venues will see loosened restrictions. Describing the press conference, Haight said that Cooper and Cohen “announced that effective Oct. 2, large outdoor venues would be permitted to open at 7% capacity with key safety precautions in place.” Because professional and college football teams have resumed play, their outdoor stadiums will open to fans.
Cooper and Cohen also mentioned a COVID-tracing app and new small business relief.
The Dept. of Health and Human Services announced its “SlowCOVIDNC” app on Sept. 4, and the app launched on Sept. 22. If you download it, you can join other app-users to monitor whether you come into contact with any positive COVID-19 cases. If you do, your app will notify you and prep you for the safest next steps. Learn the entire app system here, but remember: it’s free for download now.
Meanwhile, small businesses can apply for relief with $40 million of state funding. Any recipient business would receive up to $20,000 to help pay rent, utility or mortage interests for a four-month period. “[Small businesses] deserve our support,” Cooper said, “and this new initiative can help them weather this tough time.”
Who’s eligible for the relief? Many businesses not reopened: bars, taverns, dancing halls, indoor movie theaters, and other establishments. Check your business’s eligibility and consider applying through the NC Dept. of Commerce.
Despite naming these new benefits and initiatives, Cooper and Cohen didn’t specifically address Phase 3 for North Carolina.
Haight explains that the definite decision depends on those COVID-19 metrics. “State and public health officials continue watching key COVID-19 trends over the next week to determine if any further restrictions can be eased when the current Executive Order expires Oct. 2,” she said. In short — we’ve seen nothing definite for Phase 3, but next Friday will likely be a game-time decision about further reopening.
Make sure you track Phase 3 in North Carolina at North Carolina News Daily — we’ll cover it for you, since it’s the news you need to thrive.