This story was last updated at 5:50 p.m. on Monday, November 30. We’ll continue to regularly update it. Any new information will be added below and included in our daily newsletter.
The Latest: Last week, North Carolina officials tightened the current mask mandate as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to climb.
In a press conference on November 23, Governor Cooper announced a new executive order aimed at strengthening the mask mandate. Among other measures, the order:
- Requires masks indoors whenever you’re with anyone outside of your household.
- Gives law enforcement leeway to cite individuals/businesses that fail to comply with the mask mandate or occupancy limits.
- Requires that masks be worn indoors during exercise.
- Stipulates that any retailer that’s at least 15,000 square feet have an employee at the door to enforce the mask and occupancy requirements.
- Says that restaurants must have all guests wear masks, including at their table, when they’re not actively drinking or eating.
The order went into effect November 25 at 5 p.m.
“The purpose of today is to let people know we’re getting to a critical situation. We believe with better compliance and enforcement we can stem the tide and not have to go backward,” Cooper said when announcing the new order.
“If not, we will do what we need to do to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians.”
Cooper’s warning came amid worsening coronavirus metrics at the state and local level. It also came days after the CDC advised Americans against traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday.
On November 20, county health officials issued similar words of caution heading into the holiday week.
Mecklenburg County Deputy Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington said people should avoid traveling, large Thanksgiving gatherings, and in-person Black Friday shopping. “We understand fully that this is a big sacrifice,” Washington said. “But the risk at this time is simply too great.”
County alert system: Earlier this month, the state unveiled an alert system that will identify viral hot spots and help county leaders make decisions about business restrictions. Right now, Mecklenburg County remains in the ‘yellow’ zone, which reflects significant community spread. (Orange counties have substantial spread and red counties have critical spread.)
On November 23, the state updated it, revealing double the number of ‘red’ counties.
“If our metrics keep moving in the wrong direction, the state could impose additional orders,” Governor Cooper said. “We need to treat this virus like the deadly threat it still is.”
Also earlier this month, Cooper lowered the indoor gathering limit from 25 to 10. He later extended phase 3 until at least December 11. “Our trends have avoided spikes but they remain stubbornly high, and that’s troubling,” he said.
Here are the restrictions that remain in place during phase 3:
- Bars can open at 30 percent of their outdoor capacity, or 100 people, whichever is less. They cannot serve alcohol indoors.
- Movie theaters and small outdoor venues can open at 30 percent capacity or 100 people (per screen for movie theaters), whichever is less.
- Large outdoor stadiums can open at 7 percent capacity.
- The late-night alcohol sales ban remains in place.
A number of other venues can reopen at limited capacity, including amusement parks, cigar and hookah lounges, live performance venues, music halls and nightclubs, and adult entertainment venues. They can reopen at 30 percent capacity outdoors, or 25 people indoors (though no alcohol sales will be allowed inside).
Here’s what stays the same as the previous phase of reopening:
- Mass gatherings can have up to 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
- Gyms can open at 30 percent capacity for indoor classes. Bowling alleys can also open at 30 percent capacity. (This also includes yoga studios, ballrooms, martial arts facilities, gymnastics facilities, indoor trampoline parks, rock climbing facilities, gyms, boxing clubs, skating rinks, bowling alleys, go-cart tracks, laser tag, and paint ball facilities.)
- Playgrounds can open.
- Restaurants, salons, retailers, museums, and aquariums can operate at 50 percent capacity.
The trajectory of cases in North Carolina is on the rise, as are other key metrics such as percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations.
Known Mecklenburg County cases: 43,380.
Hospitalized: 1,966 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in North Carolina. In Mecklenburg County in the past week, 183 Covid patients were hospitalized at an acute care facility, representing an increase over the past two weeks.
Percent positive: County-wide the percentage of positive cases is 7.8 percent, statewide it’s 9.5 percent.
Deaths: 5,261 deaths associated with coronavirus in North Carolina, including 454 in Mecklenburg County. Almost all deaths in Mecklenburg were among adults with underlying chronic illnesses.
A spokeswoman for Atrium Health says the region’s largest hospital system has done extensive pre-planning to handle any influx of patients. “Atrium Health is continuously monitoring the Covid-19 pandemic trends to ensure we are properly prepared to address capacity, personal protective equipment and other needs to best care for our patients,” a statement from Atrium read.
Novant Health similarly has done extensive surge planning. The Charlotte system is able to increase its bed capacity by 60 percent if needed, and has worked to reinforce its supply chain.
Here’s everything else you need to know:
- Masks are still required. Details on the mandate, and where to buy a mask.
- Limit travel over the holidays, state health officials say. If you do plan to gather with family and friends, get tested beforehand, wear your masks, and practice social distancing.
- Know where to get tested. Here’s the Agenda guide to Covid tests.
- Schools are reopening, but it’s complicated. CMS Board of Education voted to slowly phase students back for in-person learning; this started in October and will continue until January. Details on the reopening schedule here.
- Remember these preventative steps: Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, and stay home if you feel sick. More from the CDC here.