Governor Roy Cooper announced that he was easing up on North Carolina’s stay-at-home order Tuesday afternoon, pushing the state toward the last phase of reopening. The new phase, dubbed 2.5 by Cooper, goes into effect on Friday at 5 p.m.

“After a summer of hard work, we’ve seen North Carolina’s key indicators for COVID-19 remain stable, or even decrease in some instances,” Cooper said in a press conference. “Our pause in Phase 2 was necessary as students returned to school and college campuses.”

Phase 3, the final step before reopening, has been delayed several times. The state stayed in its second phase for three months. Phase 2.5 is supposed to last until September 22.

The decision comes in spite of recent spikes and outbreaks among young people. The state reports that fewer people are getting hospitalized than in mid-July, and other variables like lab-confirmed positives and folks reporting COVID-19-like symptoms have leveled off.

The ease in restrictions will be great for fitness fanatics—Cooper is allowing all gyms and fitness studios to open at 30 percent capacity. Even bowling alleys and skating rinks get the OK. The day prior to this announcement, Planet Fitness and other gyms decided they would open Friday for people who needed exercise for “medical reasons,” although you weren’t required to show a doctor’s note. 

In addition to gym openings, the number of people allowed inside and outside in a gathering is changing; now, you can hang with up to 25 people inside, and 50 outside.

One caller asked the Governor and NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen if boutique fitness studios that hold less than 25 people were to follow the standard indoor guidelines, instead of the 30 percent. Cohen said it depended on individual studios.

Museums and aquariums are also allowed to open at 50 percent capacity.

Bars and venues will remain closed, despite pushback from owners since the opening of restaurants and breweries. Yesterday, Cooper announced he was continuing to cut off alcohol sales before midnight, and would continue the prohibition until October 2 (better than Orange County, where it’ll be dry until Halloween).

Still, NC’s colleges are at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Cohen says that there was a jump in cases for 18-24 year olds in mid-August. Cooper pointed out that there were outbreaks when schools returned, but schools with a jump in cases made the decision to go virtual. 

Meanwhile, UNC-Chapel Hill reported a 41.3 percent positivity rate among students and employees tested for COVID-19 for 08/24-8/30, a 7 percent increase from the week before. The school also updated its case numbers for the week prior, taking the positivity rate for that time period from 31 to 34 percent. NC State doesn’t even publish their weekly positivity rate.

When asked about regulations on party buses college students are apparently renting, Cooper said that they were allowed depending on the size of the group.

Follow Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.