Gov. Cooper eases shutdown restrictions with new ‘Phase 2.5’


Some businesses that have been closed since March will have to wait a a little bit longer to open at full capacity or open at all. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that after a “summer of hard work” to slow the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina will take “a modest step forward” moving into Phase 2.5 starting this Friday, Sept. 4, at 5 p.m. Mask mandates and other prevention methods remain in effect and are even more important to contain the virus, Cooper said. Executive Order No. 163 remains in effect through 5 p.m. on Oct. 2.

“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” said Cooper. “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.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shared an update on North Carolina’s data trends. Dr. Cohen explained that North Carolina has seen stability in the state’s 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. Our progress is fragile and we need to maintain focus on the 3Ws especially as we head into flu season,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, MD.

Phase 2.5 means the following for North Carolina:

• 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. 

The governor said on Monday that his order requiring restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. has been extended until Oct. 2. That order has been in effect since July.

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 to, 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.

Dr. Cohen said the decision to ease restrictions at this time is based on scientific data and trends the Department of Health and Human Services have been closely monitoring.

Macon County Schools update

As of Friday, Aug. 28, Macon County Schools central office reported that the number of positive COVID-19 cases have stabilized throughout the school system. Therefore, Macon County Schools, in partnership with the Macon County Public Health Department, has made the decision to continue its current course of action in serving our students. Macon Early College, Highlands School, Nantahala School, and all K-4 schools in the Franklin area will continue with their current plan. Franklin High School, Mountain View Intermediate School, Macon Middle School and Union Academy will remain in remote learning as announced earlier this week. As planned, Sept. 7-11, will be a remote learning week for all schools (with the exception of Monday, Sept. 7th which is the Labor Day Holiday). Additional details and updates will be released moving forward. Officials ask that the community continue to adhere to the social distancing protocols as well as the 3 W’s- Wear, Wait & Wash- so that all students may return to school soon.

Macon County stats

Macon County Public Health has conducted more than 5,000 tests with 60 pending results.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 1, Macon County Public Health reported 551 total cases, 525 recovered, 19 active cases and seven deaths in Macon County. Three people over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions died over the weekend.

Symptoms for COVID-19 are fever, cough, other lower respiratory illness (shortness of breath). If you believe that you may have COVID-19, please call the Health Department at (828)349-2517. The call center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing daily for lunch from 12 noon to 1 p.m.