By Matthew Marcellino

Is North Carolina easing its Coronavirus restrictions?


Well, maybe. We’ll find out on May 8.

Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 121, that being our current reality of the Stay-At-Home Order, was set to expire at the end of April. I’m sure you’ve heard, Governor Cooper extended North Carolina’s stay-at-home order through May 8, 2020. If you were like me that one-week extension received an epic eye roll. No matter, this extension still requires closures of dine-in restaurants, bars and other close-contact businesses. Essential Businesses can continue to operate as they were under Executive Order 121. Simply put, nothing changed except the expiration date and my blood pressure.

However, presuming it is wise to do so, and that all depends on which side of the aisle you live, Cooper outlined a three-phase approach, similar to Trump’s approach, that North Carolina will use to ease the current restrictions.  Buckle-Up.

Phase 1

Phase 1 will begin no earlier than May 9th, meaning this could all be a cruel joke and begin much later.  However, presuming Phase 1 begins, it will last a minimum of two to three weeks. There is that word “minimum” again. During Phase 1, Open businesses will have to screen employees for symptoms, continue practicing social distancing, and increase their hygiene and cleaning protocols. Yes, gatherings will still be limited to no more than 10 people, but parks can re-open as long as that limitation is followed. During this time, Companies are expected to encourage employees to work remotely, if possible.  Side note, and this is purely my opinion, “employees” with children will likely be working remote for a while if childcare options remain on lockdown.  Lastly, nursing homes and other such living settings will be under strict restrictions given the risk and danger.

Phase 2

Phase 2 will begin after a successful Phase I.  Although “successful” was not defined, it is understood that the state must continue to show positive trends. During this second phase, the stay-at-home order will be lifted, i.e. North Carolina will party like the Panthers won the Super Bowl, kind of.  The number of people allowed at mass gatherings will increase, but to an unknown amount. Places of worship and other entertainment venues will open at a reduced capacity.  And certain restaurants, bars, and other businesses that are able to follow strict safety protocols will be allowed to open. Public playgrounds will open again.  Phase 2 will not open the flood gates, but we’ll be closer to normal than we are today.  However, because of the ongoing threat, vulnerable populations will be strongly encouraged to stay at home.

Phase 3

Phase 3 is a lot like Phase 2.  Essentially, Phase 3 is expected to start a minimum of four to six weeks after Phase II, presuming there were positive trends. This Phase 3 allows for more people to gather at social events, with some restrictions. Restrictions will be loosened for vulnerable populations, but they will still be encouraged to practice social distancing. Restaurants, bars, businesses, places of worship, and other entertainment venues will be allowed to operate at an increased capacity with fewer restrictions. As with Phase 1 and 2, places like nursing homes will continue operating under strict restrictions.

This is all very good news for our State, our residents, and our businesses, but it’s not guaranteed.  The phased approach, including each individual approach, is contingent on continued positive trends in the battle against Covid-19. The state could very well add a Phase 4 or even go backwards if infections spike or if we start trending in the wrong direction.  For now, please follow Cooper’s Stay-At-Home Order and practice social distancing while out in public.

These materials are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.