FAQ: What to expect at bars, movie theaters, and other businesses in Charlotte as N.C. moves into phase 3

FAQ: What to expect at bars, movie theaters, and other businesses in Charlotte as N.C. moves into phase 3
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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.”

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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.

Are you comfortable going back to bars under phase 3?

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Here’s what stays the same as phase 2.5: 

  • Gatherings can have up to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. (Wedding receptions are still subject to these guidelines).
  • Gyms can open at 30 percent capacity for indoor classes. Bowling alleys can also open at 30 percent capacity. So can the following facilities: 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 are open.
  • Museums and aquariums can open at 50 percent capacity.
  • Restaurants, salons, and retailers can operate at 50 percent capacity.

Restrictions are loosening. Why now?

A few times a month we get an update from the governor and his Coronavirus Task Force. The last couple of updates have also included relaxed Covid restrictions. Recently, state officials gave school districts the option to move to Plan A, which means in-person learning for elementary students. Last week, the governor also announced that outdoor stadiums can welcome fans back starting October 2.

Improvement in percentage of positive cases: One of the most useful Covid metrics, percent of positive cases, has seen improvements over the last month both statewide and here in Mecklenburg County. Dr. Cohen set a goal of around 5 percent for the statewide percentage of positive cases, and we’re getting close to meeting that goal.

“We are now seeing days where we are meeting that goal and we need to keep that up,” Cohen said during a September briefing. “This is an encouraging sign that tells us the steps we’re taking to reduce viral transmission in our community are working.”

How N.C. compares to other states: By comparison, New York, which saw the worst outbreak in the country, dropped from a percent positive of almost 50 percent in April to consistently staying at 1 percent for the last couple of months.

Each state has handled the reopening process differently. Some, mostly those with Republican governors, have reopened and eased restrictions faster than others. The president hasn’t implemented many nationwide Covid-restrictions, so managing the outbreak is up to each state.

If you’re traveling from North Carolina to Connecticut, D.C., New Jersey, or New York you may be asked or required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Are there any areas of concern?

Daily case counts too high: State officials modified phase 3 to be a smaller step forward than the public had expected. Those modifications are partially because we’re moving into the colder months and flu season. Additionally, North Carolina is still confirming about 1,000+ new cases a day, which Cohen says is too high.

During Coronavirus Task Force updates, Cohen grades the state’s metrics like hospitalizations and the trajectory of new cases. She also gives an overview of testing, contact tracing, and PPE.

For the past few weeks, metrics have been good, but not great. Cohen has demonstrated this during regular coronavirus updates with yellow lines in a chart, as shown below. That’s an improvement from the red Xs Cohen used to grade state metrics with this summer, but not quite the green check the state is aiming for.

Cohen powerpoint


FAQ: Your coronavirus questions, answered.

Did we miss something? Email us at hi@charlotteagenda.com.

Is Charlotte still considered a hotspot?

No. In July, Dr. Cohen identified Charlotte as a hotspot in the state. But now, our Covid metrics closely align with the rest of the state. That means that we aren’t under any additional restrictions that are different from the rest of North Carolina.

If you’re traveling from North Carolina to Connecticut, D.C., New Jersey, or New York you may have to self-quarantine for 14 days. [Read more: New York Times’ guide to U.S. travel restrictions]

How will this impact my wedding?

Under phase 3, outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people and indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people. Throughout the pandemic, weddings (aside from ceremonies held inside places of worship) have been held to the same gathering restrictions as other events.

Related guide: How to plan a wedding during a pandemic (Photos courtesy of/by Kelley Deal Photography)

Will the late-night alcohol sales ban be lifted?

No. The late night alcohol ban goes until at least October 23.

Will the mask mandate be lifted?

No. The mask mandate, similar to the late-night alcohol ban, came in a separate executive order. It’s also been extended until at least October 23.

Is phase 3 the last phase?

Officially, yes, but that could change. When Governor Cooper laid out his original plan back in April, he only included three phases.

“We will take these three weeks to examine science and data like we always do and then make decision at the end of this three-week period about what North Carolina may do,” the governor said on September 30.

What does this mean for schools?

Nothing new for schools yet. The governor continues to stress that getting all K-12 students back to in-person learning is his highest priority. Starting in October elementary schools can operate under Plan A, with moderate social distancing. All other grades have to operate under Plan B, a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

Back to work?

Many major companies including Red Ventures and Bank of America announced their employees will work from home until at least 2021. On the other hand, Wray Ward’s offices reopened this week. [Related story: Is Wray Ward’s new office the coolest in Charlotte? Go inside]

Here at Agenda HQ, we’re back in the office at about 30 percent capacity with additional safety measures temperature checks and mandatory masks in common spaces.

lobby at wray ward headquarters charlotte

Lobby at Wray Ward.

What about Scarowinds?

Carowinds announced that it would remain closed for the rest of the year back in August. That means no spooky season for the amusement park.

Under phase 3, amusement parks can reopen at 30 percent capacity, however.

What does going to a sporting event look like now?

Each league has its own safety plan, but all include the Covid basics: masks and social distancing. Large, outdoor stadiums can open at 7 percent capacity.

At Bank of America Stadium fans will have to pay with cards, no cash. They’ll also have to pre-pay and pre-order concessions for pick-up. Common areas like picnic areas and club lounges will be closed. Fans will also enter through specific gates to avoid crowding any one area. The stadium will have hand sanitizer at various spots but fans can also bring their own small bottles.

Will the DMV allow road tests?

North Carolina DMV offices still aren’t offering road tests, but they are offering waivers for drivers over 18 who meet certain conditions. The NCDOT hasn’t yet announced when road tests will resume. In the meantime a number of other DMV services are still being offered in-person and online, and certain documents like Driver Eligibility Certificates will be accepted 30 days after all DMV offices reopen (right now some offices are still closed due to Covid-19).

And the big one: What will it take to get back to “normal”?

The consensus among medical professionals seems to be that we can’t go back to life as we’re used to it until there is a widely distributed Covid-19 vaccine. The timeline on that varies based on who you ask, but it’s likely a vaccine will hit the market sometime next year.

Until then, the masks and social distancing are here to stay.


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