CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County has removed some of its county-specific restrictions as it moves forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Stay at Home” order specific to Mecklenburg County ended on April 29. From there, the county is aligning align with the state’s order that is in effect until May 8.
Mecklenburg County health officials reported on Thursday 1,612 residents confirmed to have coronavirus. There have been 49 deaths in the county, and 24 of them are connected to outbreaks at 12 long-term care facilities.
Still, the county said it is reopening more essential businesses and vehicle access to parks, greenways and nature preserves.
Tennis will also be permitted in county parks, as well as private tennis facilities that follow safety rules and restrictions.
Following the state order, the list below outlines what is now considered essential businesses/activities:
- Defense and military contractors that develop products, processes, equipment, technology, and related services that serve the United States military, national defense, and national security interests.
- Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology.
- Lawn and garden equipment retailers.
- Bookstores that sell educational material.
- Religious facilities, entities, groups, gatherings, including funerals. Also, services, counseling, pastoral care, and other activities provided by religious organizations to the members of their faith community. Gatherings may not exceed 10 people.
- Insurance companies, underwriters, agents, brokers, and related insurance claims and agency services.
- Real estate services including brokerage, appraisal and title services.
- Automobile dealers.
All essential businesses must still abide by social distancing requirements outlined below:
- Maintaining at least six (6) feet distancing from other individuals.
- Washing hands using soap and water for at least twenty (20) seconds as frequently as possible or the use of hand sanitizer.
- Regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces.
- Facilitating online or remote access by customers if possible.
- County Manager Dena Diorio says the group of towns and county came to an agreement and will align to the North Carolina order.
“The unified coalition of the County, the City, and the towns that began working together when this crisis started will stay together,” said Diorio. “We have agreed to proceed like the rest of the state as the phased reopening proceeds.”
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris is hopeful that the county will ease more restrictions under NC Gov. Roy Cooper’s planned phase 1.
North Carolina’s stay-at-home order will expire on May 8, and the governor has not said that he plans on extending that order.
The possibility of restaurants and bars reopening dining rooms and hair salons taking customers is still weeks away under the state’s outline, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Harris says she has been pleased that those in Mecklenburg County have been doing a much better job following the social distancing guidelines set out by the state.
“It appears that, for the most part, our residents are adhering to the stay-at-home order. That is good news,” Harris said. “As long as our trends are decreasing or staying stable, we will be ready to move into phase one next week.”
Mecklenburg’s Stay at Home Order began March 26 and is more restrictive than the state order regarding certain businesses - not considered essential.
“It’s time for us to lift those restrictions and align with the governor’s order,” Diorio said.
Effective April 30, parking lots for parks, greenways, and nature preserves will reopen for vehicles, instead of simply walk-in and bicycle access. In addition, boat ramps at Ramsey Creek, Blythe Landing and Copperhead Island will reopen.
Tennis will also be allowed in county parks that follow safety rules and restrictions provided by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). Tennis players and all park patrons should observe the CDC’s recommended social distancing guideline of at least six feet between individuals, and when that is not possible, wear a face mask.
Golf is still allowed with restrictions of only one person per golf cart and social distancing.
County driving ranges are still closed. Park playgrounds, sports courts, restrooms, and fields for group sports will remain closed. High contact sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball as well as softball/baseball are not permitted.
Indoor facilities like recreation, nature, and aquatic centers will also remain closed to the public until further notice. Visitors cannot congregate in groups larger than 10.
A mass gathering is still defined as any event or convening that brings together more than 10 people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space. This includes parades, fairs, and festivals.
One exception to this is that in an effort to promote human dignity and limit suffering, funerals are permitted to include no more than fifty (50) people, while observing social distancing requirements to the extent possible.
In addition to following the state guidelines, the order will also include guidance for retail businesses to take orders online or by phone and provide curbside pickup service.
“We believe this provides businesses the parameters needed, but doing it in a safe, responsible manner,” said Diorio.
Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told the Board that she is cautiously optimistic that transitioning to the state order will help clarify what is and what is not allowed and maintain consistency within the county and across the state.
“While it’s important to remain unified, it does not eliminate the need for all of us to continue social distancing, wear masks when that’s not possible, and stay at home if you don’t need to go out,” said Harris.
The new Proclamation rescinding the previous one will be signed by the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners George Dunlap, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and the mayors of Mecklenburg County’s six smaller towns.
Mecklenburg County has 11 long-term care facilities with residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Harris says the county is seeing a slight decrease in hospitalizations and stability in indicators.
Last week, Governor Roy Cooper announced a three-phased approach to reopening North Carolina that begins with Phase 1 on May 8 if certain data parameters are met. The parameters include testing, a reduction in hospital patients, and a continued flattening of the curve of new patients.
Diorio and Harris participated in the Davidson Board of Commissioners’ Virtual meeting Tuesday night.
Both local leaders spoke about the decision to align with the state’s ‘Stay at Home’ order and then they took turns fielding questions from the town commissioners.
After Harris explained that fewer people seem to have been practicing social distancing in Mecklenburg County over the last week, one commissioner expressed concern about easing restrictions.
“Do you feel like we are in a position then to really lift the stay at home order?” questioned Davidson Town Commissioner Matthew Fort.
Harris fielded that particular question.
“What I’ll say is I think that we’re at a point where we cannot remove the order, but we can open some things up and watch very carefully to see what happens with that,” explained the county health director.
Fort expressed that he was worried about what might happen if restrictions are lifted too soon. He said the state should be trying to keep it’s restrictions on par with Mecklenburg County since Mecklenburg County has been impacted by the pandemic more than other parts of the state.
“I’m worried that we’re trying to solve the problem backwards versus formally going to the state and saying we need you to come to us and move more toward us versus us moving more towards you,” explained Fort.
Harris explained that the county could once again tighten restrictions if the local coronavirus situation worsens.
“If our trends start going in the wrong direction we may be having conversations again about whether we need to consider tighter restrictions,” said Harris.