Starting Friday at 5 p.m., North Carolina will move into the third phase of reopening. Bars, movie theaters, and outdoor venues can operate at a limited capacity.
Tight capacity limits will be in place for many businesses that are allowed to open their doors. Additionally, a number of restrictions will stay the same from phase 2.5, such as indoor and outdoor gathering limits (25 and 50, respectively).
Governor Cooper and NCDHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen explained the modest step forward by noting that while the state’s Covid metrics are stable, they are also fragile. Cohen and Cooper stressed the importance of Covid safety and flu shots as we move into colder months.
“Today, we’re cautiously encouraged about where we are in this pandemic. The key indicators we watch in North Carolina remain mostly stable,” Cooper said during Wednesday’s press conference.
“But I have to tell you that we see warning signs that the disease could spike again, here and across the country.”
How will phase 3 work?
The journey here has been a long one. The initial plan was to start this phase back in late June or early July. But state officials have pushed it back a few times since then. The phase 3 that starts on Friday will be much different than what was originally planned back in April.
Here’s what changes in phase 3:
Bars can open at 30 percent capacity, but outdoors only.
Movie theaters can open at 30 percent capacity or 100 people per screen, whichever is less.
Large outdoor stadiums can open at 7 percent capacity.
Small outdoor venues can reopen at 30 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
Amusement parks can reopen at 30 percent capacity.
The mask mandate and late-night alcohol sales ban have both been extended until at least October 23.
“Not worth it” for some bar owners: Opening bars is one of the biggest phase 3 changes. But some bar owners say operating outdoors only may not be profitable.
“To be honest it’s probably going to be more frustration and hassle to keep it that limited than it’s probably going to be worth,” Thirsty Beaver owner Mark Wilson tells the Agenda. He still hasn’t decided whether the small Plaza Midwood bar will reopen during the new phase.
Joel Cox, who owns Free Will Craft + Vine, agrees. He says he’s not sure if it makes financial sense to operate outdoors only even though Free Will does have a large patio.
The bar opened in September 2019 and has now been closed longer than it was open. Cox says the phase 3 delays have been a big source of frustration.
“We’ve gone through the reopening process three times now. And every time we get staff, we get them trained, and then we have to lay them back off,” Cox says. “We’ve had multiple opening attempts, it just never happened because we kept getting pushed back.”
Still, other bars plan to open right away. The Roxbury will open Friday night from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Additionally, bars’ indoor areas and amenities have to remain closed for now. That means they can’t serve alcohol indoors yet. Pool and billiard tables are also off-limits.
The Bars and Tavern Association released a video and statement urging elected officials to give bars a chance to safely reopen to customers.