NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina’s statewide stay-at-home order, put in place last month to slow the spread of new coronavirus, will be extended until May 8, with the future gradual reopening of the state determined by what happens over the next two weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday afternoon.
“After thorough analysis, it’s clear that we are flattening the curve, but our state is not ready to lift restrictions yet,” he said.
North Carolina public schools have been closed since March 16 and are not scheduled to reopen before May 15. Last month, Cooper also ordered all restaurant dining areas and bars to close. By late March, the state was under a stay-at-home executive order through April 29 that limited gatherings to no more than 10 people and encouraged social distancing of at least 6 feet.
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The extension of the stay-at-home order applies to dine-in restaurants as well as close-contact businesses, such as hair and nail salons. Cooper also said the decision about whether public schools will reopen this school year would be announced Friday.
As of Thursday morning, there were at least 7,608 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and 253 residents who had lost their lives due to coronavirus-related illness, according to North Carolina public health officials.
“This decision is based on the data that we see in our critical categories,” Cooper said. “I know people want our lives and our livelihoods back, and I have a plan to do that. But first we will need to hit certain metrics in order to do that.”
Those metrics, according to NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, include seeing a reduction or sustained leveling in:
State health officials want to increase daily testing capacity from 2,500 to 3,000 people a day to at least 5,000 to 7,000 per day and increase the capacity for contact tracing once a person is confirmed positive.
Based on the trends in these areas, the state could then begin to move into a three-phase approach to loosening restrictions, Cooper said.
The phases include:
Phase 2 (at least 2-3 weeks after Phase 1)
Phase 3 (at least 4-6 weeks after Phase 2)
“We’re not going to move to another phases unless it’s safe to do so,” Cooper said.
Earlier this month, a group of North Carolina epidemiologists told public health that without an extension of social distancing policies set to expire at the end of the April, North Carolina hospitals face an increased likelihood that their ability to provide acute care for coronavirus patients will be outstripped, perhaps as soon as Memorial Day.