By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – North Carolina will remain in phase two of COVID-19 restrictions, five months after the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the state, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Keeping the restrictions in place for the next five weeks will allow schools to open safely, Cooper said.
“Other states that lifted restrictions quickly have had to go backward as their hospital capacity ran dangerously low and their cases jumped higher. We will not make that mistake in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “In keeping with our dimmer switch approach with schools opening, and in order to push for decreasing numbers which will keep people healthier and boost our economy, North Carolina will remain paused in safer-at-home phase two for five weeks.”
Cooper issued a stay-home order in late March to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. North Carolinians were instructed to stay home, and only essential businesses were allowed to remain open.
After a decline in emergency visits for COVID-19 symptoms and positive tests, the governor started a phased approach to reopening the state.
North Carolina entered the first phase May 8.
Retail businesses were allowed to open at limited capacity, and residents were allowed to leave for essential services or work.
Cooper initiated the second phase of reopening May 22. The state will remain in the phase until Sept. 11, according to Cooper’s order issued Wednesday.
Cooper has faced legal and political backlash because of the prolonged restrictions. Many groups have sued Cooper over orders that have kept their businesses closed or restricted operations.
A federal judge rolled back Cooper’s restrictions on indoor religious services after Judeo-Christian organization Return America filed a lawsuit in May. The judge ruled the order violated freedom of religion rights protected under the U.S. Constitution and state law.
Phase two limits occupancy in retail stores, restaurants and other businesses, and it keeps private bars, gyms, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues closed. The current order also requires all North Carolinians to wear masks.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Cooper’s opponent in November’s gubernatorial election, quickly responded to the governor’s announcement Wednesday.
Forest’s campaign tweeted a photo of a billboard that reads, “Dan Forest Will Reopen NC.”
Forest also has sued Cooper over his executive orders. Forest claims the governor wrongly issued public health orders without concurrence from the Council of State, which includes Forest.
Still, Cooper said he has maintained the restrictions because of the fluctuation in COVID-19 trends.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday the outbreak seemed to be winding down.
“While overall we are seeing signs of stability, we still have much work to do,” Cohen said.
Emergency visits for COVID-19 symptoms have decreased but remain high over the past 14 days, she said. New cases are stable but also remain high. The percent of positive tests over the past two weeks has remained level at around 6% to 7%. Cohen wants the rate to be 5% or less. Hospitalizations also have leveled off.
Most schools plan to reopen this month. Districts can pick from smaller in-person or fully online classes.