Gov. Cooper and members of the Coronavirus Task Force will share updates on COVID-19 at 2 PM. Watch live here:

— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) September 30, 2020

North Carolina’s bars will be opening back up this Friday—as long as they have outdoor seating. Oh, and some other things are opening, too. 

Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday afternoon that the state would be heading into Phase 3, the final stage of state’s reopening plan, Friday at 5 p.m. Aside from bars, Executive Order 169 allows amusement parks, movie theaters, and small outdoor venues to open at 30 percent capacity. Larger outdoor venues are allowed to open at 7 percent capacity, as previously announced.

Phase 3 has been put off for months due to the continued spread of COVID-19 across the state. While the pandemic is very, very far from over, NC officials feel that numbers are stable enough to move into this new stage.

“We’re encouraged to see North Carolina holding steady, and because of our stability, today we’re taking another careful step forward,” Cooper said at a press conference.

The state has seen a leveling of lab-confirmed cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, 956 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and the state’s rate of positive test results has leveled at 6.5 percent of those tested. More than 3,500 people have died.

Turnaround times for results are improving, Cohen says, and the state’s SlowCOVIDNC app is making contact tracing easier.

Cooper says the main reason for entering the new phase is to get the state’s public schools back to in-person learning.

“This month marks a major shift for many families now and in the coming months as schools open their doors, some for the first time since the pandemic,” Cooper said in a press release. Elementary schools were cleared to enter “Plan A” on September 17.

Wake County Schools announced the night before that they would be transitioning to in-person classes on October 26 for Pre-K-3rd grade students, as well as all K-12 special education programs. All students aside from high school will have in-person classes by November 16.

Some of the state’s public universities and all its community colleges have been holding in-person classes since August, despite elementary schools opting for remote-instruction. On Tuesday, Appalachian State University announced that a 19-year-old student had died from COVID-19.

For the 21 and over crowd waiting impatiently to return to nights packed into dark rooms with loud music and lots of sweaty people, expect to wait a little longer. While bars are reopening, they are only allowed outdoor seating, and they will have to operate at 30% capacity—which means only so many people allowed on the Motorco patio.

The state’s curfew on alcohol sales is also still in effect, so everything will continue to shut down at 11 p.m. until October 23, when the order expires. For Orange County residents, the ban will continue until Halloween night, per a county ordinance.

I’M BACK (again). #BlueCups

— Home of The Blue Cup (@Hes_Not_Here) September 30, 2020

Bar owners have been pushing to reopen since the state began the process in May, and many are “at the end of [their] rope,” according to Isaac Hunter’s Tavern owner Zack Medford, who penned Op-Eds for the INDY in April and in August, begging Cooper to let private bars reopen, or to offer relief to these businesses.

Other bar owners tried to work around the restrictions: In August, Chapel Hill landmark He’s Not Here announced they would be operating as a “bottle shop,” selling packs of beer for folks to take home while still offering outdoor seating. It closed again shortly after UNC began reporting COVID outbreaks.

Similarly, small music venues have been asking Congress to give them a hand through the Save Our Stages Act.

While restrictions are being lifted, Cooper continued to stress residents wear face masks, wait 6 feet apart from one another, and wash their hands. 

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