Kelly and Bryan Wright pack take-out dinner from Blue Moon Cafe in Fayetteville to stay warm while on their drive back to Fort Bragg on May 14, before Phase 2 of reopening on May 22 began and allowed dining in at restaurants. Many restaurants are continuing to practice take-out only service for now. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press
Kelly and Bryan Wright pack dinner from Blue Moon Cafe to stay warm while on their drive back to Fort Bragg on May 14, 2020. Blue Moon Cafe, in Fayetteville, NC, changed their hours and began offering a fixed dinner menu for pick up. [Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Carolina Public Press]

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been increasing rapidly in North Carolina in recent weeks. Restrictions on stores and restaurants remain in place, but they are less strict than they were in early May, thanks to Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening.

Even so, exactly what the restrictions are and what you should do to obey the law and remain healthy might be unclear. People have different understandings of what is and isn’t required. Businesses vary widely in their compliance or enforcement of their own policies.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

If you feel confused, you are not alone.

Here are some answers to important questions about life during Phase 2.

Question: Are restaurants supposed to allow dining in right now?

Answer: This question is straightforward, but the issue may seem confusing. That’s because you can see many that still say “takeout only” but at the same time observe crowded restaurants with people dining close together, none of them wearing masks.

Restaurants are allowed to serve dine-in customers with limitations, which is one of the key changes that occurred when Phase 2 began on May 22.

Some restaurants and other businesses are taking precautions or have decided for other reasons that takeout-only service is right for them at this time. Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order creating Phase 2 doesn’t prevent anyone from taking extra precautions like that.

But Phase 2 does limit how many people are allowed to dine in a building at once based on its space and requires social distancing. So, you should not see crowded dining areas in restaurants that are serving dine-in customers in compliance with the law.

When you see a restaurant that clearly has too many people in too small a space, know that the owners may have decided to operate out of compliance with the law.

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Question: Is dining in safe at a restaurant that isn’t practicing the social distancing requirements the governor has put in place?

Answer: Short answer, no.

Long answer, it’s not necessarily 100% safe to dine out at all right now, but doing so without social distancing goes strongly against the best health practices recommended by infectious disease experts.

You aren’t facing arrest for dining in such a place. But the management could be cited for violating the rules, which is a misdemeanor.

Question: If violating the rules is a criminal offense, even a minor one, why are so many people doing it?

Answer: It’s hard to tell why people do anything, but one issue is that many jurisdictions are not consistently enforcing these rules. If you would like to see your community handling enforcement differently, consider contacting your city or county government.

Question: What about masks, are they required or optional?

Answer: Medical experts have consistently found that wearing a mask over your mouth and nose while in an enclosed space, or in relatively close contact with other people even in an open space, is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

If you already have the virus, and you may not know that you do, wearing a mask lessens the chance of you spreading it to others. If you don’t have the virus, the mask lessens the chance of you getting it.

Masks are not required by the law at this time, though the governor has asked that businesses use them and other personal protective equipment as much as possible.

This week, Gov. Cooper said he may consider making masks mandatory. If that happens, we’ll have to see what the new rule actually says to know how to comply and whether it’s going to be enforceable.

Question: Should I wear a mask around the house or by myself in my own yard?

Answer: It’s up to you, but recommendations have generally not called for wearing masks in your own home.

That may be different if you have someone in the family who has COVID-19 or someone in your household is in an elevated risk category due to age or health conditions. This may also be different if you live in a congregate setting, such as a nursing home.

Check with your primary care physician about your specific circumstances to decide what special precautions you may want to take.

Question: What about salons and barbershops? Are they supposed to be open?

Answer: Personal services like salons and barbershops can be open under Phase 2, with special rules limiting their operation. Those working with other people’s hair or nails do have to come into close physical contact with other people.

As a result, there is an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Employees of such businesses have to conduct additional cleaning of their hands and workspaces, provide social distancing in waiting areas and wear masks.

As much as possible, you should wear a mask while there as well, even though it’s not currently required by law.

Question: Information on social media and the internet claims this whole pandemic is a politically motivated plot that’s intended to kill our economy and undermine our president. Is this true?

Answer: Don’t believe everything you see on the internet.

You can be proactive in separating fact from fiction, or from politically motivated opinion, by going to your own health care provider and asking for guidance on the best way to protect yourself and those around you.

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