Phase 1 – What does it mean for North Carolina Businesses?

In a significant change to the restrictions imposed by NC Governor Roy Cooper in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor announced that the state would be moving to what he called “Phase 1” beginning at 5 pm on  May 8. This phase is the first of a three-phase reopening process discussed by Governor Cooper and HHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. Phase 1 will last through at least May 22.

Although the Stay-at-Home Order remains in place (it will not be “lifted” until Phase 2), Phase 1 significantly impacts the Stay-at-Home Order by, among other things, expanding the number of businesses allowed to be open. Specifically, effective at 5pm on May 8th, retailers and other businesses are permitted to open so long as they stay below 50% capacity and maintain strict social distancing and cleaning requirements. Further, there is no longer a distinction between essential and non-essential businesses, and all businesses that can maintain social distancing are allowed to open, with the exception that a specified list of businesses must remain closed. These include personal care businesses, salons, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues such as theaters, swimming pools and skating rinks. Restaurants will also still be limited to delivery and takeout.

Significantly, the Governor’s order announced that while local communities may still pass stricter Stay-at-Home orders than his Phase 1 Order, they may not differ on restrictions imposed on retail locations. The Governor’s order is meant to establish a state-wide and consistent approach to reopening retail establishments.

The Governor also stressed that, under this order, all restrictions on senior care and congregated living centers remain in place, and telecommuting is still encouraged for all businesses. Businesses are encouraged to continue allowing workers to work from home where possible and to adjust scheduling to allow fewer employees to be in a workplace at a time.

Mass gatherings are still banned, and indoor gatherings are limited to no more than ten people, although the Order states that people will be able to meet and greet family and friends if they remain outside and socially-distant. State Parks will reopen and protests and worship services may take place outside and socially-distant. This is because studies show that the virus spreads much more easily indoors in settings where people stand or sit near each other for more than five minutes at a time.

Dr. Cohen asked all North Carolinians to abide by what she called the “Three Ws” – Wear a face covering, Wait more than six feet from others, and Wash your hands frequently.

The Governor’s order is available here. The Governor’s office also issued this graphic to assist people in understanding the difference between current restrictions and Phase 1.

If you have questions about how this new Phase 1 order affects your business, please contact me.