Gov. Roy Cooper discusses his COVID-19 policies during a press conference earlier this year. Screen grab from UNC-TV

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Two weeks after relaxing the stay-at-home order, Gov. Roy Cooper is removing it altogether starting at 5 p.m. Friday, as he authorizes Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening from the new coronavirus.

Under Phase 2, some businesses must remain closed, including nightclubs, museums, bars, gyms, theaters and other indoor venues to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Restaurants, pools and salons will be required to restrict the number of customers to 50% of capacity, along with social distancing and cleaning requirements.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

Cooper called Phase 2 “safer at home.” Indoor gatherings can still have no more than 10 people, but for outdoors the limit increases to 25 at a time.

“Just because you can go more places doesn’t mean you always should,” Cooper said Wednesday afternoon.

While religious worship is exempt from this order following a federal court decision, Cooper urged caution.

“I hope congregations and leaders throughout North Carolina will think twice about what they are doing and look at these recommendations and follow them for the health and the safety of their members.”

In March, for instance, a church choir in Skagit County, Wash., met for 2 1/2 hours. Of the 61 people who attended, 32 were confirmed to have contracted the virus, with another 20 who likely had it. Three were hospitalized, and two died, according to the official report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The act of singing itself might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization,” the CDC report said.

State and federal health officials recommend that those over age 65 or who have health conditions that can lead to serious illness or death from COVID-19 stay at home as much as possible. Those conditions include chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, severe obesity, diabetes, anyone undergoing dialysis or with liver disease.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said North Carolina never experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases, as New York City had. Cohen said actions in North Carolina helped “flatten the curve” to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients.

Though restrictions are easing, people must continue to wash their hands, keep their distance from others and wear a face covering in public to protect the health and safety of others.

“We need to be incredibly vigilant to slow the spread of the virus,” she said.

The reason bars, gyms and other venues remain closed to the public is that the virus can more easily spread in those areas. As for when restrictions can be further loosened, triggering Phase 3 of reopening, Cooper said it depends.

“We want to look at this timeline and look at the numbers over five weeks,” he said. He said his administration is working on a plan for future phases.

“We want very much to be able to start school in August,” he said.

When asked when he and his family intended to go for dine-in service, Cooper said he hasn’t decided yet

“I have eaten a lot of pizza” while working from the state emergency operations center, he said. “It probably will not be a pizza joint.”

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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