By Lindsay Marchello
Carolina Journal News Service
During a May 18 news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper did not provide definitive answers about whether North Carolina would enter Phase Two of his reopening plan this weekend.
The second phase of his three-pronged plan would relax some of the country’s most stringent rules on state businesses and residents. North Carolina entered Phase One on May 8.
Phase One allowed state parks and some retail businesses to open with safety precautions in place. Phase Two would see even more restrictions lifted, potentially allowing hair and nail salons, gyms, and restaurants to open with limited capacity. People at higher risk of contracting the virus would be encouraged to continue sheltering in place.
Exact details on Phase Two are lacking. But North Carolina may not enter the next phase May 22, the earliest date Cooper has set for the next round.
Many residents and businesses are growing weary of the lockdowns, and some questions from journalists mirrored that sentiment. Cooper didn’t waiver, continually relying on talking points and using “data” in general, non-specific terms to defend the restrictions.
“We are continuing to monitor the data and the metrics that we’ve laid out for our state,” Cooper said. “We will ease restrictions and move to Phase Two only if we are headed in the right direction with our data.”
How much lead time businesses will have to prepare for Phase Two isn’t clear. The governor said he will announce sometime this week whether the state could enter the next phase. A May 22 reopening would leave little time for restaurants to schedule employees, restock pantries, and sanitize facilities.
As North Carolina contemplates lifting some more restrictions, neighboring states are miles ahead in terms of reopening.
It is still too early to tell the effects of easing restrictions in other states, Cooper said.
“We will keep a close eye on what is happening in Georgia and South Carolina to make determinations about us going into additional phases and what we might need to do to protect ourselves,” Cooper said.
The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in North Carolina, but so does the number of tests conducted. While North Carolina has increased testing, the rate of positive tests has remained relatively stable, at about 7%, said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations remain stable, too, Cohen said. As of Tuesday, 19,700 COVID-19 cases in North Carolina have been confirmed, with 691 deaths. More than 265,000 tests have been completed.
In Swain County, as of May 19, there were eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 988 tests have been completed with 949 negative results and 31 pending results.