Photo courtesy of N.C. Department of Public Safety

Movie theaters, conference centers, outdoor venues, amusement parks and bars with outdoor spaces and seating will be able to open on Friday at 5 p.m. under North Carolina’s Phase 3 reopening.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that Phase 3 will continue the state’s “dimmer-switch approach” to easing restrictions and mass gathering requirements to prevent community spread of Covid-19. 

“Today we’re cautiously encouraged,” Cooper said. “Because of our stability, we’re taking another careful step forward.”

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen updated the public on the state’s data trends. Hospitalizations, positive test rates, Covid-like cases and lab-confirmed cases remain stable. Overall, the leveling of the data trends is a good thing, but Cohen still wants to continue to see the state’s cases decline. To help reduce cases, she advocated for the public to download the state’s SlowCOVIDNC Exposure Notification application and to get flu shots ahead of the cooler months. 

“Our progress is fragile; we cannot take anything for granted,” Cohen said. “We’re going to need to double down to stop the spread of this virus.”

What changes in Phase 3?

Executive Order 169 will allow:

  • Outdoor venues with more than 10,000 seats to operate at 7% occupancy
  • Smaller outdoor venues, like amphitheaters, to operate outdoors at 30% capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less
  • Movie theaters and conference centers to operate indoors at 30% capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less
  • Bars to operate outdoors only at 30% capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less
  • Outdoor amusement parks to operate at 30% occupancy.

What doesn’t change in Phase 3?

  • Restaurants and bars still aren’t allowed to serve alcohol for in-person consumption past the 11 p.m. curfew Cooper mandated in July and extended through Oct. 23. All alcoholic beverages must be consumed in the outdoor seating area.
  • Mass gathering limits remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. 
  • At-risk populations — people with pre-existing conditions and/or over age 65 — are encouraged to remain at home. 
  • Face coverings are mandatory for those over the age of five. Cooper said the mask mandate issued back in late June will continue to be important until the country has a vaccine or cure for Covid-19.

When does Phase 3 end?

Phase 3 will expire on Friday, Oct. 23, because cooler weather and flu season is coming. 

“We want to make sure we make this window short enough so we can react,” Cooper said. “We will take these three weeks to examine the science and data like we always do.”

Getting children back to in-person learning is a priority for the state, and Cooper said it will be a major shift for many families as schools begin opening their doors in the coming months.

“Our children can go back to school, and our economy can fully rebuild when we’re safe and people have confidence that they can stay healthy,” the governor said. “Every careful step we make forward, and every time we wear a mask and keep our distance, we are helping keep this disease at bay and building a stronger North Carolina.”

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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