North Carolina will begin reopening from a five-week-long coronavirus shutdown at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Governor Cooper announced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. 

Phase 1 of Cooper’s three-part plan, which will last at least until May 22, will keep closed businesses where social distancing has been deemed impossible, such as spas, salons, pools, theaters, and gyms, and continue to forbid dine-in service at bars and restaurants.

However, it will otherwise drop the distinction between essential and nonessential businesses, allowing most businesses to open and employees to return to the office (though telework is encouraged where possible). Retail businesses can reopen as well, so long as they limit capacity to 50 percent of normal and direct workers and customers to stay six feet away from each other. (Face coverings are recommended.) 

State parks and trails will reopen, too, though public playgrounds will not. Childcare facilities and summer day camps are permitted, though overnight camps will not be. 

Cooper also loosened the state’s stay-at-home order. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be allowed outside so long as people maintain social distancing. Religious services and protests of more than 10 people are permissible, too, with the same restrictions. 

“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state, and phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” Cooper said. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”

Weeks ago, Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen had identified seven metrics they said they would use to evaluate whether the state was ready to reopen. On most, the state doesn’t seem to have hit the targets the administration set. (A press release suggested that the administration “remains stable” on the metrics.)

At the press conference, Cohen said they were doing good enough. 

“We have a lot of capacity in our system,” she said. “I feel confident saying these [metrics] are largely stable.”

While the number of cases is rising, so is the number of tests, she added. 

“We’ll keep watching those trends,” Cohen said. “It shows overall stability for our state. That’s also why we are being cautious as we take this first step. We are saying, ‘Stay at home.”’

“What most concerns me is that people do not take this seriously,” Cooper said. “We would rather you stay at home.” 

Cooper denied that pressure from ReOpenNC and Republicans had influenced his decision. 

“We’re basing it only on the science and the facts,” he said, adding that he would do the same as he evaluates whether to loosen restrictions further in two weeks. “We’re going to be careful and look at this data. The health and safety of North Carolinians will be the number one priority. In order for our economy to thrive, people need to feel safe. People need to trust the process.”

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at 

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