North Carolina moves into ’Safer at Home’ Phase 2.5

Updated: Sep. 4, 2020 at 9:49 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina has officially moved into “Safer at Home” Phase 2.5 of reopening, allowing gyms and several other establishments to reopen.

Gov. Roy Cooper cited stable coronavirus numbers as the reason the state moved into Phase 2.5 Friday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. Phase 2.5 is effective until Oct. 2, at 5 p.m.

Mass gathering limits will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

Gyms and indoor exercise facilities, such as yoga studios, martial arts, and rock climbing, as well as skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball, volleyball etc., may open at 30 percent capacity.

Bowling alleys and skating rinks are considered fitness facilities. They may open under the same capacity limits and rules as fitness facilities.

Playgrounds may open. but the age requirement for mask wearing will include children down to age 5.

Museums and aquariums may open at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters remain closed, including movie theaters that are part of museums.

In addition, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen issued a Secretarial Order allowing for outdoor visitation at nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities.

To participate, nursing homes must meet several requirements, including, but not limited, not having a current outbreak, having a testing plan and updated written Infection Control or Preparedness plan for COVID-19, and having adequate personal protective equipment.

The Secretarial Order is effective as of Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. and remains in effect through Sept. 22, 2020.

North Carolina’s statewide curfew that bans restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. has been extended until Oct. 2.

Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment facilities, amusement parks, dance halls will remain closed. Large venues remain subject to the mass gathering limits.

Capacity limits at restaurants and personal care businesses like hair and nail salons will stay the same. For all of these, there will be additional safety measures required.

“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Gov. Cooper said. “I want to be clear — we can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works — wearing masks and social distancing. Moving to Phase 2.5 means we can safely do a few more things while still fighting the virus as vigorously as ever.”

What remains the same under Phase 2.5?

  • Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, amusement parks, dance halls, and other entertainment facilities will remain closed.
  • Restaurants remain subject to capacity limits and other requirements for in-person dining.
  • Personal care businesses such as hair salons, nail salons, barber shops and more remain subject to capacity limits and other requirements.
  • Large venues remain subject to the mass gathering limits.
  • Wedding receptions and other private events remain subject to the mass gathering limits.
  • Face coverings are still required in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of 6 feet from other people who aren’t in the same household or residence isn’t possible.

The full executive order can be found below.

Phase 2.5 requires fitness facility patrons to wear a face covering at all times when inside the establishment except for when strenuously exercising. Strenuous exercise will vary from person to person. Each individual must assess whether they are performing an exercise that requires such physical exertion that they cannot wear a mask.

Gyms must follow a number of safety protocols including but not limited to, spacing equipment six feet apart, ensuring individuals remain six feet apart during group fitness classes, and implementing various cleaning and sanitation protocols.

Indoor gyms and indoor fitness and exercise facilities may NOT serve additional patrons beyond the 30 percent capacity limit, even if the patron claims medical exception or presents a doctor’s note.

Sports tournaments and entertainment events are allowed at fitness facilities. However, the number of spectators allowed at these events is subject to mass gathering limits.

Drive-in theaters may operate subject to the requirements in the order, and movies can be shown in open outdoor spaces, provided they comply with mass gathering restrictions.

Restaurants can still serve alcoholic drinks for on-site consumption. However, the 11 p.m. curfew on sale of alcoholic drinks has been extended to Oct. 2. Bars at sporting or entertainment events must remain closed. However, restaurants at sporting and entertainment events may operate pursuant to the restrictions in Phase 2.5.

Spectators at professional and collegiate sporting events are limited to the mass gathering limits specified in Phase 2.5.

Destiny Wellenreiter co-owns the gym, Hustle House. They were open for just three months before the executive order in March shut their doors.

“Just the loss of momentum was tough for us having been just opening, new business, lots of momentum, people loving what we were doing and excited about it, and then just having to pump the brakes,” Wellenreiter said.

Like many gyms in North Carolina they expected to be allowed to reopen at some capacity back in May under Phase 1.

“We’ve been down this road a few times and I’m very hopeful that today is the day,” Wellenreiter said just hours before Governor Cooper announced the move into Phase 2.5 “We definitely were blind sighted with not being included over and over again. When you look at, especially boutique fitness, you can see how controlled that environment is. We can control every single place a person touches being cleaned and sanitized before another person touches it or goes near it.”

Cindy Bickman just purchased a Row House franchise in Cotswold Village back in December. She was planning to open in May but the executive order and construction delays due to coronavirus set them back.

“There were definitely delays in the supply chain and construction so everything just kind of got slowed down,” Bickman said.

Her new opening date is expected to come in September, but at a limited capacity she admits it will be hard to sustain her new business.

She says the business model is made for 25 rowing machines in each room. At 30 percent capacity she would be down to fewer than 10 machines per class.

“I can do it for a while but there is no way to even break even with nine machines in the room,”' Bickman said.

WBTV asked Governor Roy Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen if boutique fitness studios could operate at full capacity if its full capacity remained beneath the new indoor mass gathering limit of 25 people.

Dr. Cohen said it will be decided on a case by case basis.

“This is going to depend on the physical layout of some of these dance studios, yoga studios, or other fitness,” Dr. Cohen said. “I would say we should follow up offline with our teams in our specific guidelines of what does 30 percent mean. Sometimes that has to do with the fire code capacity, sometimes that has to do with the number of people per the given space. So it would depend on the particular, physical layout. What I would encourage people to do is for those kinds of indoor physical activity, you want to make sure that you’re going to be able to space out.”

For Danny Leon, the announcement of gyms reopening at 30 percent capacity comes too late. He opened the doors to CKO Kickboxing in the University City area back in 2014. At its height, there were about 500 clients that worked out in his gym.

“People loved coming there because there was no judging anybody. We were all in the same boat, it was a very tough class and everybody cheered for each other. It was a wonderful place to work out,” Leon said.

Leon said he received an $11,000 small business loan when his doors closed in March due to the pandemic, but it wasn’t enough to last him the 6 months he would be closed. He closed his doors for good in May.

“I didn’t blame the governor in any way for what he did. I actually thought it was very smart,” Leon said. “I was prepared for it to happen. I mean not financially, but emotionally and as a matter of practicality. I knew there was no way we could safely, especially with our workouts, no way we could safely have the gym open.”

WBTV also spoke to Anthony Kearey, an uptown business owner, about the shift to Phase 2.5. Kearey, who owns a few different bars and restaurants in the Charlotte area, noted that Tuesday’s announcement was another ’gut punch’ to bar owners.

“It’s been just shy of six months. No business is ever designed to sustain that,” said Kearey about the restrictions placed on bars. “Why should we have to take loans out to keep our businesses running in the hope that we can open sometime when it looks like it could be another four weeks?”

Some of Kearey’s businesses have been able to reopen, but others have not. For example, Grace O’Malley’s Irish Public House in Matthews is open to the public because restaurants can operate in North Carolina, but Tilt On Trade, a bar owned by Kearey, cannot operate because no food is served in the establishment.

“Every other week or two it kind of changes the goalposts. I can get a salamander of vodka right here behind us, but I can’t go right next door and get the exact same drink. Why is that?” questioned the business owner.

During his Tuesday press conference, Cooper was asked about bars being forced to remain closed.

“We know that some businesses are still closed and that people are hurting and the more we can do to slow the spread of this virus, the faster we can turn this dimmer switch on and let everything open,” responded Cooper.

Kearey said his businesses have collectively lost millions of dollars in revenue because of the pandemic and it’s associated restrictions. He his hoping he’ll be able to reopen all of his establishments soon.

“Hopefully, eventually we’ll get there, whenever that day comes,” said Kearey.

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