CHARLOTTE, NC (Catherine Muccigrosso and Daniele Chemtob/Charlotte Observer) - The first phase of reopening businesses in Charlotte during the novel coronavirus crisis begins Friday at 5 p.m.
That marks the start of Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phase plan for the state as long as COVID-19 cases don’t spike.
Phase 1 includes re-opening retail stores and relaxing the stay-at-home order to allow shopping beyond essential businesses like grocery and hardware stores. This phase is expected to be in place for two to three weeks.
Here are some questions and answers about Phase 1 and what to expect in Mecklenburg County.
WHAT WILL CHANGE?
People can venture out for more than essential tasks, like grocery shopping and health care. More retail businesses will be allowed to open, including shopping malls.
Businesses will have to follow social-distancing and cleaning rules that essential businesses like grocery and hardware stores have implemented. State parks can open with limited guests.
DOES MECKLENBURG HAVE ITS OWN RULES?
Not anymore. Mecklenburg County had its own stay-at-home order, but local officials let that expire at the end of April. Now, it is under the statewide order.
WHAT SAFETY STEPS WILL STORES NEED TO TAKE?
Businesses can operate at 50% capacity instead of the current 20% capacity. Social distancing of 6 feet between people and cleaning measures are required.
CAN I GO TO RESTAURANTS AND BARS?
Only for take-out and curbside pickup. Dining rooms remain closed until Phase 2 can begin, which could be as soon as May 22.
WHAT ABOUT WORSHIP SERVICES?
Worship services of more than 10 people are allowed only if held outside and social distancing is followed.
DO I NEED TO WEAR A MASK?
You are not required to wear a mask, but it is strongly recommended, as masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Health officials suggest wearing a cloth face covering, which can be made at home. Some retail stores have required shoppers to wear masks, such as The Fresh Market and Costco.
HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN GET TOGETHER?
Gatherings of 10 or less are allowed, outside. No big graduation or other events allowed.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT AT COUNTY PARKS?
Parks and their parking lots are open, but visitors should practice social distancing and avoid groups larger than 10. Masks are recommended when out in public, especially where social distancing can’t be followed, parks officials said. Park visitors also are urged to wash their hands frequently.
Group sports are not allowed, and people may find it’s “self-service” only when they visit a boat ramp or other park amenity, with no staff. While tennis courts and golf courses remain open, playgrounds and restrooms are still closed.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is restarting some activities, such as mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. Its outdoor gear store will also open, as well as the trail and kayak centers, and food and beverages will be available to-go.
ARE HAIR SALONS AND BARBERSHOPS OPEN?
Not yet. Businesses like hair and nail salons are included in re-openings in Phase 2, with reduced capacity and special social distancing measures. Phase 2 won’t start until a minimum of two weeks after Phase 1.
WILL MY KIDS HAVE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL?
No. All N.C. public schools will reopen Aug. 17, adding five days to the school year as part of a COVID-19 response plan signed by Cooper.
CAN I TAKE MY KID TO DAYCARE?
Childcare centers that follow strict cleaning requirements can open during Phase 1 for working parents or for those parents who are looking for work. Prior to Phase 1, childcare centers have only been open for parents who are essential workers.
ARE GYMS OPEN?
No. Gyms can open on a limited basis under Phase 2.
CAN I LOOK AT HOUSES FOR SALE OR SELL MY HOUSE?
You can conduct real estate transactions so long as other guidelines are followed, such as limits on gatherings of more than 10 people. That means some open houses may not be possible, but you could set up a private showing.
ARE VAPING AND TOBACCO STORES OPEN?
They can reopen in Phase 1.
ARE MOVIE THEATERS AND ENTERTAINMENT VENUES OPEN?
No. Event venues can reopen at limited capacity in Phase 2. However, Blumenthal Performing Arts has suspended all public shows and events through July 7 at its venues: Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Stage Door Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center; McGlohon Theater and Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square; and Knight Theater.
ARE MAJOR SPORTS VENUES OPEN?
Venues can reopen at limited capacity in Phase 2.
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 scheduled May 24 will take place without spectators and be broadcast on FOX at 6 p.m. The May 23 Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race has been postponed to May 25 and will take place without spectators. It will be broadcast live on FS1 at 7:30 p.m. and on PRN affiliate radio networks. Check the website for other race changes.
CAN I VISIT RELATIVES IN A NURSING HOME OR JAIL?
Unlikely. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recommends all facilities that serve as residences for people at high-risk not allow visitors unless it is an end-of-life visit.
WILL OFFICES OPEN?
The state is still continuing to encourage remote work when possible, but more businesses are allowed to open under Phase. Many Charlotte-area companies are continuing their work-from-home policies. Mecklenburg County officials said workplaces must follow rules similar to retail requirements — keeping employees 6 or more feet apart, disinfecting high-touch areas and encouraging workers to wear masks, if appropriate.
IS THE DMV OPEN?
Yes, but you may be able to do your business online. Cooper also has extended the expiration date on more than two dozen DMV credentials, waiving penalties for a late registration renewal in March or April. The five-month extension applies to any credential that expires on or after March 1, and before Aug. 1.
WHAT SHOULD I KNOW IF I’M GOING TO THE AIRPORT?
Airlines have slashed many flights as demand plummets, so check with your airline before you travel. Many carriers, including American Airlines, Delta and United, are requiring customers to wear masks on the flight. For up-to-date information on recommendations for travel, visit the CDC’s website.
WHAT ABOUT THE BUS OR LIGHT RAIL?
To maintain low ridership and encourage social distancing, CATS is urging the public to only ride transit for life-sustaining trips to access food, medical facilities/pharmacies or essential places of employment. All riders are asked to wear non-surgical cloth face coverings. Riders should only sit in seats noted by a floor marker.
Buses will accommodate loads of no more than 20 riders at once. CATS has been operating on a temporary modified schedule seven days-a-week, fare free, until further notice. Check the website for updates.