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WEB EXCLUSIVE After a month of stabilized COVID-19 metrics following phase 2.5 and the opening of gyms, museums, aquariums, playgrounds and schools, Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina will enter phase 3 of reopening on Friday, October 2 at 5 p.m.
Phase 3 comes with strict restrictions, however. Bars, which have been closed since March, are finally allowed to reopen, but—and here’s the catch—they can only open outdoor spaces at 30 percent capacity or 100 customers, whichever is less. This means that bars without outdoor spaces must remain closed. Additionally, the statewide 11 p.m. alcohol curfew has been extended to October 23.
Even bars with outdoor spaces that are allowed to reopen may not be financially able to. North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA) president Zack Medford’s bar Parliament has six seats outside, meaning that he would only be able to open with two customers, something that is not viable to maintain his businesses. “Bars have to pay for insurance, staffing and even marketing just to get people in the door,” says Medford, also the owner of Coglin’s, Isaac Hunters and Paddy O’Beers “It’s impossible to break even like that. Even if you had an outdoor seating area the size of a tennis court you could only seat 15 people.”
Medford says that it is virtually impossible to pay staff and overhead with fewer than 20 customers. To have 20 customers, a bar would need to have at least 60 seats outside, or 3,000 square feet of patio space. Out of 93 bars surveyed by the NCBATA, only six can have more than 29 customers; 59 have 12 outside seats or fewer.
Additionally, Medford created a poll on his Facebook page asking bars if it is physically possible and financially viable for them to open under Cooper’s restrictions, So far, 30 of them have said no; only one bar owner has said they could make it work.
Meanwhile, sports stadiums are now open to thousands of fans, and people have been able to consume alcohol inside of restaurants since May.
“This is a slap in the face,” said Medford. “Serving food does not protect you from COVID-19. Gov. Roy Cooper had a chance to do the right thing and give North Carolina bar owners a chance to survive. Instead, he chose an unworkable path.”
In a press conference held Wednesday afternoon, Cooper said that he has already asked the general assembly for significant funding to help small businesses pay off their debts, pay their utilities and pay their employees. He says that the key to getting the economy back on track is to “deal with the pandemic,” with the hope that lowering the spread of the virus will make people feel safer going out.
In addition to bars, movie theaters, conference centers, amusement parks and small outdoor venues are also permitted to open at 30 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. For movie theaters, the cap applies to each indiviual screening room, rather than the entire facility. Large outdoor venues seating more than 10,000 people can open at 7 percent capacity.
NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said that North Carolina’s case numbers are “stable but fragile” and that we need to take cautious steps forward in this next phase. That means capacity restrictions, mask requirements and social distancing. Cohen also urges individuals to continue following the 3 W’s (wear a face covering, wash your hands and wait six feet apart from others), get the flu shot and download the SlowCOVIDNC app.
“We need to continue the hard work we’re doing,” Cohen said. “We want to balance making progress while slowing the spread.”
In regards to Halloween this year, Cohen said that “Halloween is not cancelled,” it will just look a little different. She encourages all who are participating in the holiday to wait six feet apart from other people, wash your hands often and possibly try to incorporate a mask in your costume. On the NC DHHS website, you’ll find additional recommendations for safely trick-or-treating or participating in Halloween activities.
North Carolina’s phase 3 will remain in effect until October 23 at 5 p.m. Phase 2.5, which began September 4, will expire on Friday when phase 3 begins.
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