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

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Bars and gyms statewide will remain closed for at least five more weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday, as the state remains in Phase 2 amid a worldwide pandemic.

The current instructions were set to expire Friday, but Wednesday’s order extends them through Sept. 11. Restaurants, nail salons and barbershops and other businesses can continue to operate but at reduced capacity.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said coronavirus infections are starting to “stabilize, but the rate remains high.”

“My glimmer of hope remains as we see subtle signs of progress,” Cohen said.

This week the state surpassed 2,000 official deaths from the new coronavirus, though many more who have died and had the virus may not have been tested.

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Cooper said people must continue to wear masks in public and redouble their efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

“Stable is good, but decreasing is better,” he said. “We know stability is fragile and these trends can change quickly if we let down our guard.”

The five-week extension will allow health officials to examine how the virus reacts as some K-12 schools return to in-person classes, as well as the opening of college campuses statewide this month.

Bars have been shuttered since mid-March, and a statewide gym closure followed two weeks later when the governor ordered all nonessential businesses closed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Though some restrictions have since eased, neither gyms nor bars have been legally allowed to open since then.

In late June, another Cooper executive order required people to wear masks or face coverings in public when they cannot maintain adequate physical distancing. Then on July 31, a ban on alcohol sales in restaurants after 11 p.m. and before 7 a.m. went into effect.

Cooper said Wednesday that move was “to prevent restaurants from turning into bars,” and it’s time to “double down” on strategies to slow the spread of the virus. He reiterated that the state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division has the authority to revoke liquor licenses for businesses that do not comply with the orders.

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Cohen said turnaround times from test to results have improved, and are around three to four days for most labs.

“LabCorp here in North Carolina has brought on new capacity,” Cohen said. “They have been working hard to clear their backlog. That is very good news for North Carolina.”

More than half of the state’s residents are at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19, according to information from DHHS. Those at risk include those over age 65, and people with chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and anyone who has undergone treatment for cancer.

Kate Martin

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