CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina is taking another step towards Phase 3 of reopening.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that outdoor event venues could open at 7% capacity starting next Friday, Oct. 2. Venues like Bank of America stadium, which has a capacity of more than 75,000, would be included in the event venues permitted to open at the reduced capacity.
Large entertainment venues are those that can seat over 10,000.
“We will continue analyzing our data and indicators as we determine how to move forward safely in other areas that may be included in the new order on October 2nd. In it, we hope to ease some other restrictions, while still keeping safety protocols like masks, social distancing, and mass gathering limits in place,” Cooper said.
The large outdoor arenas are safer than indoor event venues, Cooper said, and allow “plenty of room” for social distancing. Masks would still be expected to be worn.
“Today we are announcing that because of our continued stability, we plan to take another step toward Phase 3 in the coming days, if our progress holds,” Cooper said. “That step will mean larger outdoor event venues will be able to open at 7-percent capacity starting next Friday, October the 2nd.”
“We are excited to welcome some fans back to Bank of America Stadium beginning Oct. 4,” the Carolina Panthers said in a statement. “We have worked for months to develop and implement a responsible and comprehensive plan for the return of fans and we are confident that it will ensure that the game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible.”
Panthers officials say they will continue to follow guidelines provided by the CDC and local and state government, as well as the National Football League.
Cooper made the announcement a little over a a week before the current executive order is set to expire so that outdoor venues can start safely planning ahead.
“With more things open and people moving around more, we need everyone to stay vigilant about wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing their hands often,” said Secretary Mandy Cohen. “Our progress is fragile and will take our continued hard to work to protect it.”
State and public health officials will continue watching the key COVID-19 trends over the next week to determine if any further restrictions can be eased when the current Executive Order expires October 2 at 5 p.m.
On September 4 at 5 p.m., the state moved into Phase 2.5. The phase was set to expire at 5 p.m. on October 2. The phase allowed gyms and several other establishments to reopen, while loosening restrictions at places that were already operating.
Gov. Roy Cooper cited stable coronavirus numbers as the reason the state moved into Phase 2.5.
Mass gathering limits increased to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors under Phase 2.5. 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., were able to open at 30 percent capacity.
Playgrounds were also allowed to reopen, but the age requirement for mask wearing includes children down to age 5.
Museums and aquariums were able to open at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters remained closed under Phase 2.5. North Carolina’s statewide curfew that bans restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. was extended until Oct. 2.
In addition, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen issued a Secretarial Order allowing for outdoor visitation at nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, which was set to expire Tuesday, September 22.
To participate, nursing homes had to 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.
Some schools also saw a recent change, will the option to operate with full in-person learning.
Cooper announced that beginning on October 5, North Carolina elementary schools will be able to open under “Plan A,” which allows all students and staff to return to school.
“We are able to open this option because most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers,” Cooper said. “The science of lower viral spread among younger children also backs up this decision.”
Symptom screenings and health attestations will still be required for use of school transportation under this plan. Grades 6-12 will still be required to operate under the “Plan B” approach, which lets students participate in a mix of in-classroom and remote learning.
Schools are also still allowed the option of completely virtual learning, as laid out in N.C.'s “Plan C.”
Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment facilities, amusement parks, dance halls 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.”
WBTV asked Cooper and 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.”