Gov. Roy Cooper says NC to partially ease some coronavirus restrictions Friday. Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper says NC to partially ease some coronavirus restrictions Friday.

Citing stabilizing numbers, Cooper says some venues such as gyms, museums, and playgrounds will reopen under reduced capacity. 

Have you been missing trips to gyms, museums, aquariums, and playgrounds?  

You can start returning to those spots this Friday evening, as long as you have a mask on and are prepared to keep your distance from others.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that North Carolina was ready for a “careful step forward” in its COVID-19 response and eased his restrictions on several types of businesses and gathering spots.

Also allowed will be outdoor visits with loved ones at nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, provided there are no ongoing outbreaks at the facility.

The newest stage of the COVID-19 statewide response, which Cooper called “Safer at Home Phase 2.5,” will go into effect at 5 pm Friday. 

Cooper and his NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen urged people to keep wearing masks and urged those who are at high-risk of serious illness from the disease to limit their exposure as much as possible.

North Carolina saw outbreaks in college towns after some state colleges briefly came back for in-person classes earlier this month before moving to online classes. As of Tuesday, the state has seen 169,424 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of March, and 2,741 deaths, according to NC DHHS data. Hospitalizations initially soared this month but dropped to 946 people with COVID-19 currently in need of in-patient medical care.

“We can do this safely only if we keep doing what we know works, wearing masks and social distancing,” Cooper said. “Moving to Phase 2.5 means that we can safely do a few more things while still fighting the virus as vigorously as ever.”  

The state’s numbers have largely stabilized but are still at numbers that indicated there’s still plenty of the virus spreading around.

“We’re encouraged but cautious,” Cooper said. “Stability isn’t victory.”

Here are some of the changes Cooper’s announced Tuesday: 

·  Indoor gatherings are now capped at 25, up from 10 people

·  Outdoor gatherings can involve up to 50 individuals.

·  Playgrounds can reopen

·  Museums and aquariums can operate at 50% capacity

·  Gyms and indoor exercise facilities such as dance and yoga studies can operate at 30% capacity

·  Children ages 5 and older will now need to wear masks in public settings

·  Outdoor visits at nursing homes and care facilities can resume

Cooper plans to keep a statewide ban on restaurant sales of alcohol after 11 pm at least until Oct. 2.

Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment areas and amusement parks will still be closed until Cooper’s new phase.

Many restricted businesses had been bristling under the restrictions. Two exercise facility chains, Planet Fitness, Crunch Fitness, and O2 Fitness said they were opening their gyms earlier this week, using a loophole that allowed those who need to work out for medical reasons.

And the NC Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday from several bowling alleys asking for a reprieve from the restrictions, Raleigh TV station WRAL reported. Bowling alleys will be able to open under the reduced capacity outlined for fitness and exercise facilities, Cooper said Tuesday.