May 20, 2020 - COVID

Explainer: Phase two of reopening starts Friday. Restaurants and salons can reopen, bars and gyms remain closed

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Why now? North Carolina has been successful so far at flattening the curve. Most metrics — such as hospitalizations — are stable, but new cases daily are increasing, at least in part because of NC’s increased testing. State officials say this data guided their decision to enter phase two.

This story was last updated at 5:50 p.m. on Friday, May 22. We’ll continue to update it as part of our ongoing coronavirus coverage. Any new information will be added below and included in our daily newsletter.

North Carolina enters phase two of Governor Roy Cooper’s plan to gradually reopen the state at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. At that time, we’ll no longer be under an order to stay at home. Instead, state officials issued a “safer at home” recommendation.

What changes? During phase one, which began earlier this month, North Carolinians could return to malls and other shops, among other non-essential activities, but technically the stay-home order remained. Now that order lifts altogether. Still, it’s recommended residents stay home when they can. During phase two, there are five key changes:

(1) “Safer at home” vs. “stay at home”. “(This) is another careful step forward, and we have to continue taking this virus seriously to prevent a dangerous spike in infections,” Cooper said at a press conference on May 20.

(2) Restaurants can have dine-in customers. Restaurants may reopen at 50 percent capacity for both indoor and outdoor seating. They must also follow social distancing and cleaning requirements. Bars remain closed.

(3) Childcare facilities, day camps, and overnight camps are allowed. These facilities and camps can open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements. Swimming pools can also open at 50 percent capacity.

(4) Hair and nail salons can reopen. Hair salons, barbers, and nail salons can reopen at 50 percent capacity with social distancing and cleaning requirements.

(5) Gatherings of up to 25 are now allowed outdoors. A mass gathering ban is still in place, but this increases the size of gathering allowed. Up to 10 people can gather indoors, and up to 25 can gather outdoors. Previously, only outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people were permitted.

(6) Brewery taprooms and brewpubs can now reopen. This pertains to any brewery, even if they don’t serve food. It also applies to wineries and distilleries, according to clarification from the state.

Timeframe: Phase two begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. This is the second of a three-phase plan from the governor and is expected to last at least until June 26. The next phase, phase three, would loosen mass gathering and capacity restrictions and open gyms, bars, and other businesses.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Go grocery shopping.
  • Get outside. Go for a walk around your neighborhood or a park.
  • Pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy.
  • Visit a healthcare professional.
  • Dine-in at a restaurant (or get takeout food).
  • Go shopping.
  • Go to work, but teleworking is still encouraged as much as possible.
  • Visit with family and friends at outdoor gatherings of 25 or less (begins May 22 at 5 p.m.)
  • Go to a worship service so long as it’s held outside.
  • Get your nails done or your hair cut.

Here’s what you can’t do:

  • Visit with loved ones in the hospital, nursing home, or any other residential care facility. A facility may make limited exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
  • Gather indoors in groups larger than 10.
  • Go to a concert.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Go to the bar.
  • Go to a movie theater unless it’s a drive-in theater.
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  • And more (see our FAQ below).

Now, let’s answer your questions.


I thought bars and gyms were allowed in phase two. What happened?

They were included in phase two in Governor Cooper’s original plan, but that was adjusted. Because North Carolina’s rate of new cases daily is not stable as state officials would have hoped, phase two plans were modified to be more cautious, the governor said.

Do I need to wear a mask?

This isn’t legally required, but health officials strongly encourage face coverings.

Should I report in for work?

This depends on your job. Employees may report in for work, but the state is encouraging teleworking to continue whenever possible.

Can I hang out with friends and family?

During phase two, you can now gather outside in groups of up to 25 and inside in groups of up to 10. Practicing social distancing and wearing a face covering is still recommended.

Is there a curfew?


May I attend religious services, including funerals?

Yes, but social distancing is encouraged. Worship services that are held outdoors, like a drive-in service, are recommended. Funeral services are allowed with up to 50 people.

Can I go to the gym?

No. Gyms, health clubs, yoga studios, rock climbing facilities, and other fitness studios remain closed during phase two.

Can hair and nail salons open? What about massage parlors?

Yes. Personal care businesses are permitted to open in phase two.


Can I go to the park?

Yes. Parking lots are now open. You should continue practicing social distancing and stay at least six feet from others. Most state parks and trails are also open.

Can my kids play on playground equipment?

No. Playgrounds remain closed in phase two. Playground equipment should be blocked off, but in the case it’s not, do not use it.

Are golf courses open?

Yes. Two people are now allowed in a golf cart.

Am I allowed to go out on the lake?

Yes, you can take your boat out on the lake, but practice social distancing if you go out with others.

Is landscaping/gardening allowed?


Can I play basketball, tennis, or other sports?

Yes and no. Low-contact sports (like tennis) are allowed, but high-contact sports (like basketball) are not.


When will Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reopen?

North Carolina’s K-12 public schools remain closed through the end of the school year. CMS has moved up its calendar to begin the 2020-21 school year two weeks early on August 17.

I’m graduating high school or college. Will there be a commencement ceremony?

Likely not in person, but this depends on your school. CMS and UNC Charlotte have already canceled in-person commencements, but private schools’ plans are being developed on a school-by-school basis. Schools may hold virtual or drive-by ceremonies.

I have to go to work. Are childcare centers open?

Yes. Childcare centers are allowed to open.

I have a custody agreement to co-parent. Will this change that?


Are summer camps still on?

Overnight camps are allowed during phase two. Other camps may continue with some restrictions on contact sports, capacity, and more. Check with the individual camp to be sure.


Are ABC stores open?

Yes. [Related Agenda story: Why the state considers buying booze ‘essential’ during the coronavirus outbreak]

Are home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot open?


Are restaurants, breweries, and bars open?

Restaurants are allowed to open during phase two, but some may choose to stay closed. Check with the specific restaurant first. Many are offering takeout and delivery of food and beverages, too. Bars remain closed during phase two.

Originally, the state had said that breweries can’t reopen Friday unless they serve food onsite. This week, the NC Craft Brewers Guild lobbied for a change, arguing that breweries aren’t “bars,” so should be able to open.

“The governor’s office heard us, and we’re very appreciative of all they and the DHHS did to help clarify this for our industry. We are good stewards of public safety, and our breweries are taking the pledge to provide a safe environment for our consumers,” Rich Greene, NCCBG executive director, told the Agenda.

Are farmers’ markets open?


Is Target open?


Are bookstores open?


What about other retailers?

Retailers are allowed to be open, operating at 50 percent capacity. At malls, customers will not be permitted to congregate in common areas like food courts. Some retailers have decided to remain closed.


Can I still use Uber/Lyft?


Are gas stations still open?


Are car dealerships open?


Can I stay in a hotel?

Yes, hotels and short-term vacation rentals are allowed.


Can I still move as planned?

Yes. If you’re moving to a new home, you are still permitted to do so.

I’m in the process of buying a house. How does this order affect real estate sales?

As of April 30, real estate services are considered an essential business, which loosens some restrictions on purchasing a home. Most notably, you can now tour an occupied home without having money vested. Individuals should still practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart and clean and disinfect any surfaces touched.


Is my appointment to see the dentist still on?

This depends on your dentist. Many dentists have reopened for nonessential procedures such as regular cleanings. Check with your office to be sure. [Related Agenda story: Dentists furlough hygienists, put student loans on hold, and donate PPE in response to COVID-19]

Can I take my pet to the vet?


If you have any additional questions about what this means for you, email us at [email protected].

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