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Governor Roy Cooper today said a stay at home order across the state will remain in effect until May 8.

The governor also released a three-phase plan once certain benchmarks are met to reopen businesses currently closed under Executive Order 120.

Currently, the governor said, there 7,608 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with 486 people in hospitals. There have been 253 deaths in the state.

In discussing the continuation of the stay at home order, Cooper said, “Last month our state took strong actions to slow the spread of this pandemic. We know these actions save lives.”

The state also knows, “We can’t keep staying at home in the long run. Now we know what’s needed to transition out of the restrictions and what a new normal will look like.”

Last week the state laid out some general steps on a path forward. “We did an increase in testing and tracing. We need our trends to be headed in the right direction.”

Cooper said the White House shared similar guidance with states “and we have incorporated much of that guidance in our plan.”

But, he said, after a thorough analysis of the details of testing, tracing and trends, “It’s clear that we are flattening the curve but our state is not ready to lift restrictions yet. We need more time to slow the spread of the virus before we can begin easing those restrictions.”

Therefore, the governor said, he was extending the stay at home order until May 8. “This will include continued closure of dine-in restaurants and bars as well as the same close contact-type businesses like hair salons, nail salons, movie theaters and others that are in the previously signed executive order 120.”

Cooper said it is important to get the state’s economy moving and the state is helping with unemployment insurance payments, stimulus money and many businesses which continue to be open. “But I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals and easing these restrictions now would do that. This decision is based on data that we can see in our critical categories. I know people want their lives and their livelihoods back and I have a plan to do that but first we need to hit certain metrics because the health and safety of North Carolinians is our number one priority.”

Cooper said members of the business community provided the administration ways on how they could safely operate.

The state has developed a three stage plan to move forward, a plan which Cooper said will stimulate the economy while protecting health. 

In the first phase, once certain benchmarks are hit, the stay at home order will remain in place, but it will be modified to allow more reasons to leave home, including commercial activity and any business allowed to be opened such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book stores and other retailers. “That will open more opportunities to go out safely without the restriction of only going out for needed supplies.”

Those retailers will still need to implement social distancing for employees and customers as well as enhanced hygiene and cleaning. He also said they would need to screen their employees for symptoms.

Mass gatherings would still be limited to 10 people or fewer in phase one. “But our parks can reopen in phase one so long as they follow the mass gathering limitation. Our outdoor exercise will continue to be encouraged.”

Face coverings will still be encouraged when social distancing isn’t possible.

He said the same restrictions in this phase and other phases would remain in place for nursing homes and other congregate living settings. “This virus is still going to be with us so we have to be extra careful.”

After a minimum of two to three weeks has passed and the state continues to hit its marks, the state can enter phase two. “Here the stay at home order can be lifted but we will still encourage the vulnerable population, those people who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill, we will encourage them to stay at home.”

Cooper said in phase two, churches, restaurants and bars as well as other businesses can open their doors for people as long as they operate at reduced capacity. “The number of people allowed at a mass gathering will be increased.”

After a minimum of four to six weeks has passed and the state continues to hit its marks, the state can then enter into phase three. “In this phase, the guidance for vulnerable populations, those at risk, they will continue to loosen. There will be increased capacity for bars, restaurants and other businesses and entertainment venues and houses of worship.”

In phase three the mass gathering ban will increase to allow more people. “In all of the phases strict rules will continue to apply in nursing homes and our congregate living facilities.”

Said Cooper: “It’s important to know as we move through these phases, if our infections spike or our benchmark trends start to move in the wrong direction, we may have to move back to a previous phase in order to protect public health. As we’re doing now, we will continue to use the best science and data available to make those decisions and continue to make our consultations with business and industry leaders.”

The governor said, “I know people in our state are eager to move forward and we will get there, but right now I appreciate everyone who is taking this seriously and staying at home to protect themselves and others. We know we won’t go back to the way we lived in January or February of this year any time soon. We need a vaccine and we need more ways to determine our level of immunity.

“But if we keep protecting ourselves and go back to work and play carefully, we can rebuild the damage that this virus has done to our state. North Carolinians are tough. We’ve been through trying times and I know we will have that resiliency to look out for each other, encourage each other and support each other as we beat this virus and we will beat this virus.”