North Carolina has experienced enough stability in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to proceed Friday with a Phase 2 reopening of the economy, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday.
However, because of the recent uptick in statewide cases, Cooper said Phase 2 begins at 5 p.m. Friday with “a more modest step forward than originally envisioned.”
The plan is for Phase 2 to last through June 26.
Restaurants, personal care businesses (including hair salon, barber shops and tattoo shops), and indoor and outdoor pools can open at 50% capacity while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Cooper said there is a “strong desire” from restaurant owners and operators “to do this right because they know safety precautions will be good for business.”
“This is something the (N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association) feels comfortable with.”
Meanwhile, Cooper chose to keep closed several businesses that had been projected to reopen under similar 50% capacity restrictions.
Those include bars, nightclubs, public playgrounds, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors and museums.
Many of those businesses have been reopened in neighboring states in recent weeks.
Cooper said those businesses will remain closed because “of the potential spread of COVID-19 can be significant there.”
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday the state has topped the 20,000 mark for confirmed cases at 20,122, and deaths are at 702.
“The (recent) increases in cases signal a need to take a more modest step forward,” Cooper said. “This virus remains a serious threat to our state.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said the state continues to experience an overall leveling off of cases and hospitalizations over the past 14 days even as increased testing is finding new cases.
Forsyth County has 773 confirmed cases after 35 new cases were reported Wednesday. With eight deaths and 305 considered as recovered, there are 460 active cases in the county.
Cooper called Phase 2 a “safer-at-home approach” in which working from home remains encouraged.
“During this Phase 2, we’ll have a number of weeks to look at the data, see where we are, look at all these trends and hopefully we can move into Phase 3,” Cooper said.
Personal care business employees would be required to wear a facial mask and customers would be “strongly encouraged” to do the same. Childcare facilities, day and overnight camps are allowed to reopen.
Mass gatherings remain restricted to no more than 10 individuals indoors and no more than 25 outdoors. Those include event venues, conference centers, stadiums and sports arenas, amphitheaters, and groups at parks or beaches.
“This next phase can help us boost our economy, and that’s important,” Cooper said. “But we can only help our economy when people have confidence in their safety, which is why it is important to ease restrictions carefully.”
Phase 2 has an exception for entertainment and sporting venues with at least two entrances and exits with a stated fire capacity of at least 500. Participants in those event will not be included in the mass gathering counts.
“We know that a lot of sporting teams, concerts, arenas want to be able to open,” Cooper said.
“We’re talking with them about the kind of plans that could be put into place in order to allow them to open, but keep people safe.”
Professional and scholarship collegiate athletes will be allowed to train indoors as long as they don’t exceed mass gathering limits.
On Saturday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing indoor worship services to resume in North Carolina until a hearing can be held May 29.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Saturday there will be no appeal of the injunction, but continued to caution against large inside gatherings.
Phase 2 still requires rigorous restrictions on nursing homes. The majority of COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in nursing homes and residential care centers.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has been pressing Cooper to allow for personal-services businesses and restaurants to open before Phase 2.
Berger said in a statement in which he thanked Cooper for allowing the state to enter Phase 2, while continuing to question his decision-making and methodology processes.
“I’m glad the governor has responded to the calls of senators, small business owners and unemployed workers to let them get back to work,” Berger said
“It seems strange that it was unsafe to reopen last week, but it’s safe to reopen now with worse numbers.
“This gets back to the central question of what strategy is driving the governor’s actions. What goal does he think is achievable?”
Cooper said for weeks he believed a statewide approach to Phase 2 was appropriate.
House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said that “all businesses rely on certainty from state government to plan for challenges ahead in any economic circumstance.”
“It is essential that moving forward our economic response to this pandemic be based in transparent data that considers stark contrasts in urban and rural regions of our state.”
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said Cooper’s Phase 2 decision making “appears to be guided more by increasingly vocal public criticism and resistance to his orders.
“His latest decision is likely to generate complaints from businesses and organizations originally included in Phase 2 plans but left out of the latest reopening list. Some of these affected business owners might go to court.
“All will be left wondering why the governor does not trust them to take proper precautions to protect their customers and members,” Kokai said.
With the state ready to transition to a modified second phase of reopening, Winston-Salem restaurateurs are split on when to reopen, with some saying it may be weeks before they allow table service and inside dining despite Gov. Roy Cooper giving them the OK.
Cooper made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, saying the state will enter a “Safer At Home” period, meaning some businesses, such as restaurants, hair salons and barbershops can return to operating at a 50% capacity, while bars, night clubs, gyms, movie theaters and public playgrounds will remain closed.
“Safer At Home Phase 2 is another careful step forward, and we have to continue taking this virus seriously to prevent a dangerous spike in infections,” Cooper said.
Tuesday night, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued updated guidance and requirements for restaurants. The document, dated for Friday, May 22, lays out suggested policy for restaurants on a variety of topics — the use of masks by staff, whether buffets and salad bars should be allowed and the use of disposable menus — and lists restrictions about the number of people allowed inside the business.
By Wednesday afternoon, N.C. DHHS had issued guidance for hair salons, massage parlors and other personal care business settings.
Restaurants and hair salons will be limited to 50% capacity indoors through Phase 2 and all restaurant patrons must sit 6 feet apart if they are not sharing a table. People sitting at lunch counters or bars must also be 6 feet apart. Restaurants are also required to conduct daily symptom screening of employees and immediately send symptomatic workers home to isolate.
Most restaurateurs said the five-page guidance document from N.C. DHHS is a good plan for social distancing and protecting staff and customers, but some noted that it has more recommendations than requirements.
“It is as expected, mostly recommendations with little teeth,” said Peyton Smith of Mission Pizza Napoletana, who has not set a date for reopening yet.
Dana Moody, of West End Coffeehouse, said she wished masks were required, not recommended.
“I’m claustrophobic and find them to be hot and uncomfortable, but I still wear them all the time when I work with customers or go into other businesses,” Moody said.
Several proprietors have plans to reopen as soon as they reasonably can, provided they have the proper sanitation measures in place.
“We plan to open on Tuesday, if all goes well,” said Molly Curran, a co-owner of 1703 Restaurant. “We do not want to rush into service without taking the proper measures to clean and sanitize as well as training our staff.”
Young Cardinal Café was busy moving tables around Wednesday in preparation of opening its dining room for breakfast this Saturday.
Others have said they plan to stick with takeout for the time being. Claire Calvin, who owns three restaurants in town, said that The Porch will continue takeout and delivery. It plans to open its patio for drinks, where customers also can eat their takeout. “We will not provide table service or inside dining for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Calvin said she expects to offer outdoor patio drink sales at Alma Mexicana, and that Canteen Market and Bistro will remain closed for now.
Moody of West End Coffeehouse said she plans to offer limited hours beginning the first weekend of June. But for now, she said, “We intend to focus on preorders and curbside pickup.”
Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro is hoping to resume table service June 1 — but only outside. Meridian Restaurant, which has been closed since March, hopes to reopen May 29. Others, such as Local 27101, said they are weeks away from opening their dining rooms.
Hair salons, to the relief of many, are also allowed to reopen in the modified Phase 2. Ray Pruett, co-owner of Koru Touch Salon on Greenwich Road in Winston-Salem, said he is ready to open and has 50 people on the appointment waiting list. The employees at Koru Touch have already made several sanitation changes.
“Anything you touch is now gone,” he said, referring to things such as magazines. “We are reducing the number of customers that we would see in a day.”
Before COVID-19, the salon only booked four to five clients a day, Pruett said. Staff will wear masks — the state requires all personal care employees to do so — and customers will have the option of having a hand-held mask, he said.
“I personally feel this virus is with us and it’s part of our lives now and it may be the new level of health you have to live with in this world,” Pruett said.
He said many people who die from the coronavirus have underlying health issues that could have been prevented. Medical experts have also noted that young people who don’t seem to have any underlying health issues have suffered severe complications from COVID-19.
“I’ve always taken salon safety extremely seriously,” he said. “We’ve been protecting people from HIV, MRSA, seasonal flu for the last 30 years that I’ve been doing this. The state comes and checks that we’re doing that every year. That’s what our license on the wall is for.”
Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Greater Winston-Salem Inc., called local businesses the heart of this community and said Greater Winston-Salem is available to help local businesses understand what they need to do in order to safely reopen.
“They want to welcome their customers again and get back to work, and we all want to shop and dine again,” Owens said. “Phase 2 is an important step toward a more normal way of life and it will positively impact our economic recovery if everyone works together to maintain a safe environment.”
The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina said that the order does not prevent it from opening the doors of its wellness operations.
But YMCA officials said they are disappointed they will be unable to reopen the organization’s fitness facilities at this time “because we know that our fitness centers improve health and give us the opportunity to connect face-to-face with people we care about.”
They said they look forward to sharing more details about pool operations and outdoor group exercise opportunities in the near future.
Stan Law, president and chief executive of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, said: “We have been working on a reopening plan since our temporary closure began in March, and have been following the available guidelines and recommendations from state and local officials as it pertains to reopening in the safest way we can. We look forward to the time when we can fully open our doors to serve our communities in a more expansive wellness capacity.”
Gym owners reacted to Cooper’s decision to keep fitness centers closed for the foreseeable future.
“My biggest concern is a prolonged state of Phase 2,” said Amalia Nappo, who recently bought Tinderbox Fitness for Women, a for-women-only fitness center at 690 Jonestown Road in Winston-Salem.
Planet Fitness, which has two gyms in Winston-Salem, has been preparing for reopening.
McCall Gosselin, a spokeswoman for Planet Fitness, said the company has been “developing a COVID-19 operational playbook with enhanced cleanliness and sanitization policies and procedures to protect the health of our members and our team members. We believe we have robust standards in place and we are excited to reopen when we are able to.”
Cooper’s new order is in effect until at least June 26.
The former interim chancellor of UNC School of the Arts is now the university’s permanent leader.
The UNC Board of Governors on Wednesday appointed Brian Cole to be the ninth chancellor of the Winston-Salem arts school. Bill Roper, the UNC System’s interim president, picked Cole from two finalists after a search that took nearly eight months. Cole’s new permanent role started as soon as it was announced Wednesday.
Cole — a bassoon player, conductor and university administrator — has been at UNC School of the Arts since 2016, when he was hired to be the dean of its School of Music. He has served since August as interim leader of the institution of about 1,300 college and high school students.
Cole said in a telephone interview Wednesday shortly after the board’s vote that he was excited to get Roper’s call a week ago letting him know that he was the president’s choice for the permanent job.
“I’m very committed to the institution,” Cole said. “I’m very humbled by this opportunity and thrilled.”
Ralph Womble, chairman of both the university’s Board of Trustees and the committee charged with finding a new chancellor, was pleased with the pick.
Womble told Board of Governors members that the school’s 20-member search committee “invested many months of hard work and commitment to find the right leader in the midst of unprecedented circumstances. ... We have the utmost confidence in (Cole), and we are so pleased that you see that as well.”
Cole succeeds Lindsay Bierman, who left UNCSA last summer to become chief executive officer of UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina. The Board of Governors set Cole’s salary at $280,000.
In his nearly four-year tenure in Winston-Salem, Cole oversaw the high school and university programs of the School of Music and developed the school’s first strategic plan. UNCSA also credits him with creating new academic programs and modernizing existing ones, installing a new state-of-the art video recording system in its best recital hall so performances could be shown live online and bringing to campus several world-class guest conductors to lead the school’s symphony orchestra.
In September, in one of his first official acts as interim chancellor, Cole publicly introduced the university’s $65 million fundraising campaign, the school’s first major push for private funding in two decades. That effort, expected to continue until mid-2021, met its goal in April.
Cole credits two opportunities — one in high school and another after he and his wife moved to Puerto Rico — with putting him on the path to lead the nation’s first public arts conservatory.
Cole grew up in a non-musical family in Gainesville, Fla. He credits several “truly transformative teachers” with nurturing his talent for music. By sixth grade, he had picked up the saxophone, which he played throughout high school in the jazz and marching bands. During his senior year, he was the marching band’s drum major.
As a high school freshman, Cole said, the band teacher asked for volunteers to play the bassoon, a complicated 4 1/2-foot long double-reeded woodwind instrument. Cole recalls looking down a long row of seated saxophone players to the empty seat where the bassoon player would sit and thinking, I’m going to try something else.
Cole was a talented player, and he earned a college scholarship to play the bassoon to Louisiana State University. At LSU, he met his wife, Iris; led the alto saxophone section of the school’s marching band; and decided to go to graduate school and make a career out of music and conducting.
Cole said his high school and college experiences taught him valuable lessons that he hopes to continue at UNC School of the Arts: exposure to new things — and the opportunity to try them out is crucial.
“I got a lot of opportunities,” Cole said, “and it’s important for others to have the same.”
After college, Cole earned a master’s degree, started work on a doctorate and conducted orchestras. In 2005, he and Iris moved to Puerto Rico for her work. She grew up on the island and had family there. Cole was conducting and figured he could be based anywhere. He also found part-time work teaching at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in San Juan.
About three months into his teaching gig, Cole said, a school administrator approached him with an offer. The school liked Cole’s academic and performance background and was looking for an associate dean of academic affairs. Would he be interested in the job? He took it, and 15 years later he’s in charge of a university.
“Without that opportunity,” Cole said, “I wouldn’t be here today.”
Cole stayed at the conservatory in Puerto Rico before leaving for Spain. There, he was the founding dean of the new Valencia campus of Berklee College of Music, the contemporary music and performing arts college in Boston.
Cole’s work around the world taught him another crucial lesson: the arts and entertainment industries are global, and graduates of schools like UNCSA need to be exposed to those trends as they prepare for careers in music, dance, filmmaking and other artistic fields.
In his almost four years at UNC School of the Arts, Cole said he has been impressed by the faculty and staff that the school has recruited and the graduates it has turned out. Cole said one of his first big tasks will be to compile the school’s next strategic plan to ensure that UNCSA continues to provide opportunities for talented and motivated students.
“Our big focus will be for our programs and experiences here to continue to be relevant not only to the industry today but the industry for the next 10 or 20 years,” Cole said. “We want to get busy writing the next act for UNC School of the Arts.”
The COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson Foods chicken-processing facilities in Wilkesboro has surged into likely one of the largest in the state.
Tyson confirmed Wednesday that 570 out of its 2,244 full-time and contract employees, or 25.4% of the workforce, has tested positive for the virus.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t list the state’s largest individual outbreaks on its website dashboard outside those at nursing homes and residential care facilities.
Meanwhile, Hanesbrands Inc. said Wednesday that additional testing of employees at its Rural Hall distribution center found an additional 15 positive tests for a total of at least 16.
Hanesbrands spokesman Matt Hall said the company had 164 distribution center employees tested.
“This rate of positive results is consistent with the overall Forsyth County rate for test results,” Hall said.
Hall said of the 15 new cases, 10 were already in quarantine based on the first positive case that was disclosed May 15.
“We have begun contact tracing on the other five and have suspended operations for all employees of this shift,” Hall said. “It is important to note that of the 15 positive cases, only two showed symptoms.”
In Davie County, Ashley Furniture Inc. has had “a handful of” COVID-19 cases among its Advance workforce, according to spokesman Cole Bawek.
“We have no reported cases where transmission is believed to have occurred while working at our facility,” Bawek said.
“Out of caution, we have nonetheless asked associates who may have previously come in close contact with these associates to quarantine at home.”
Suzanne Wright, Davie County's health director, said that "since Ashley Furniture employs individuals from multiple counties, I can only confirm the one associated case that resides in Davie."
"A member of Ashley Furniture’s leadership staff reported Thursday that a 'handful' can be defined as less than 10 employees.
"The staff member reported that there is no consistent pattern of cases in one particular department or area of Ashley, and all confirmed cases are associated with close contact transmission outside of Ashley Furniture."
Tyson said the majority of infected employees “did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified.”
The company said 2,007 employees were tested for the virus at the facility May 6-9.
The remaining 237 employees were either tested by Wilkes County Health Department officials or through their health care provider.
Wilkes elected and public health officials said testing of 200 Tyson employees found that 38, or 19%, had the virus.
Tyson said employees who have tested positive are on paid leave and not allowed to return to work until they have met the criteria established by both the CDC and Tyson.
“We are working closely with local health departments to protect our team members and their families, and to help manage the spread of the virus in our communities,” said Tom Brower, Tyson’s senior vice president of health and safety.
At least 70 cases of COVID-19 are Forsyth County residents who either work at the Tyson plant or have come into close contact with someone who works there, according to the Forsyth Department of Public Health.
Tyson said May 14 it would conduct a second temporary plant shutdown at its Fresh Plant 2 facility that was completed Tuesday. Its Fresh Plant 1 and food services facility are operating on a limited basis.
Wilkes health department said that as of Wednesday morning, the county had 447 confirmed cases with two deaths and 239 individuals considered as recovered for an active total of 206.
Tyson’s Wilkesboro facilities are at least the seventh nationwide that the company has idled temporarily for a deep cleaning, counting three in Iowa and one each in Indiana, Nebraska and Washington state. According to health department and media reports, there have been more than 3,500 infected Tyson workers at those seven plants.