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Governor announces Phase II extended to September

North Carolina will remain in Phase II of its three-phase COVID-19 reopening plan for five more weeks, through at least Sept. 11. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced the extension Wednesday, citing the need to slow the spread of the virus as schools throughout the state begin to reopen in mid-August.

“With the opening of schools, people will move around more and so will the virus,” 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 won’t make that mistake in North Carolina. 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 II for five weeks.”

Under Phase II, bars, gyms and movie theaters throughout North Carolina will remain closed, as they have since the state began its COVID-19 response in March. If allowed to reopen in September, that will make six months such establishments have been closed. Though bar and gym owners challenged Cooper’s executive orders with lawsuits in June, the courts did not rule in their favor.

Cooper’s authority has also been challenged in court last month by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who argues that at lease six executive orders issued by the governor during the pandemic sidestepped legal requirements for consensus from the North Carolina Council of State. Lawyers for both sides argued that case before a judge this week, but no ruling has been issued.

With the extension of Phase II, prohibitions on mass gatherings of 10 or more people inside, or 25 of more people outside, remain in place. Businesses operating with reduced capacities in Phase II will be required to continue doing so. Businesses such as gyms, bars and entertainment venues will remain closed.

During Wednesday’s press briefing, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the percentage of hospital visits for COVID-like illness was declining, but elevated. New cases over time were characterized as stable, but high, with between 1,500 and 2,000 new cases per day. The trajectory of positive tests are level, as are hospitalizations.

“My glimmer of hope remains, as we see subtle signs of progress,” Cohen said. “But as we see viral transmission levels start to stabilize here in North Carolina, across the country and around the world, many places are seeing exactly the opposite — trends that are going in the wrong direction after a rush to reopening. Here in North Carolina, we continue to take a measured approach, making decisions based on the best available evidence and data that we have.”