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N.C. will enter Phase 1 of COVID-19 recovery on Friday, Cooper says

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Cars drive on Franklin Street at night on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the pictured businesses and many others on Franklin Street have either ceased operations entirely or have adapted their operations for the current crisis.

Governor Roy Cooper has signed an executive order, effective May 8, that will move North Carolina into Phase 1 of his plan to ease restrictions and reopen the state following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Cooper said the new executive order, which goes into effect this Friday evening, will still include some components of the current stay-at-home order. 

Under the new order, restaurants will still be limited to take-out and delivery service, but retail stores will now be able to allow customers to enter up to 50 percent of stated fire capacity.  Under the order, certain kinds of businesses, including tattoo parlors, hair salons, gyms and movie theaters, must remain closed.

Cooper said this set of restrictions will allow for a safe start toward economic recovery. 

"We can only boost our economy when people have confidence in their safety," Cooper said. "Fighting this virus requires all of us to do our part."

While most gatherings will still be limited to 10 people , the order will permit outdoor gatherings of over 10 people for worshiping or for exercises of first amendment rights, such as protesting. 

"We are paying attention to first amendment rights,” Cooper said. 

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said the state will move into Phase 1 because of trends indicating the stabilization of four key indicators: hospitalizations, lab-confirmed cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests and COVID-like syndromic cases.

"We're heading in the right direction," Cohen said. "We're not perfect, but we're leveling."

Cohen said although the state is not yet seeing a downward trend in these indicators, this is due to what she said is North Carolina’s early success in flattening the curve. 

“We aren’t seeing significant downward trajectories on most metrics largely because we were successful in the first place preventing a sharp peak,” Cohen said. 

According to Cohen, the percentage of COVID-like syndromic cases out of total emergency room visits and the percentage of positive COVID tests out of total tests confirmed are both showing downward trends based on an early look at the most recent data. 

As of May 5, there are 12,256 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina. Cohen said this metric, though starting to level, is still increasing slightly, which she said is likely due to increased testing capacities. 

"We are doing twice as much testing as we were just a few weeks ago, and that's good," Cohen said.

According to the most recent statistics, 534 North Carolinians are hospitalized with coronavirus. But Cohen said day-over-day hospitalizations are leveling, and she is confident in N.C. hospitals' abilities to handle a possible spike. 

"We have the capacity that we need to meet increased demands if more people become ill, also a good sign," Cohen said.

Going forward, Cooper said he hopes North Carolina will be ready to enter Phase 2 of reopening when the new executive order is set to expire on May 22, but he said Phase 1 may be extended if these indicators go awry.

“We have flattened the curve, but we haven't eliminated COVID-19," Cooper said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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