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RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that after a summer of trying to slow the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina will take a modest step forward and move into what he termed “Phase 2.5” starting Friday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.

Mask mandates and other prevention methods remain in effect and, Cooper said, are even more important to contain the virus.

“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Cooper said during a news conference at Emergency Management Headquarters. “We can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works — wearing masks and social distancing. In fact, a new phase is exactly when we need to take this virus even more seriously.”

Some of changes in the Phase 2.5 executive order include:

• Mass gathering limits will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors from the current limit of 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.

• Playgrounds may open.

• Museums and aquariums may open at 50% capacity.

• 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% capacity.

• Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment facilities, amusement parks, dance halls will remain closed.

• Large venues remain subject to the mass gathering limits.

In addition, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. 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.

Cohen also gave an update on the state’s data trends. She explained that North Carolina has seen stability in key metrics.

“As we take modest steps forward today, it’s important to remember that moving forward doesn’t mean letting up on slowing the spread of the virus,” Cohen said. “Our progress is fragile and we need to maintain focus on the 3Ws especially as we head into flu season.”

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days

North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness continues to decline.

Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days

North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is stable.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days

North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is stable.

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days

North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is declining.

Although the numbers are still stable or declining, they remain high, according to Cohen.

In addition to the metrics, the state continues building capacity to be able to adequately respond to prevent virus spread. These areas include:

Laboratory Testing

The state continues to have testing capacity and lab turnaround times are averaging two days. However, fewer people are getting tested. Anyone who has symptoms or has been exposed should get tested. There are supports available to help people who may face challenges in being able to miss work or safely stay home.

Tracing Capability

The state continues hiring contact tracers to bolster the efforts of local health departments.

Personal Protective Equipment

North Carolina’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are stable.

View the slides and graphs from Tuesday’s presentation.

Read the Executive Order.

Read the Secretarial Order.

Read the Frequently Asked Questions.

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