Citing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past 14 days, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that North Carolina will remain in phase three of COVID-19-related restrictions for the next three weeks.

Cooper urged North Carolinians to act responsibly and protect their loved ones by wearing masks and observing social distancing and added, "Day in and day out, the virus is seizing opportunities to spread. The most dangerous time is when people drop their guard and think this isn't serious."

Phase three restrictions went into effect Oct. 2 and were set to expire Oct. 23.

Under phase three, face coverings are still mandatory in public for everybody over the age of 5 if social distancing isn’t possible and limits on mass gatherings remain 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

Also under phase three:

• large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7% occupancy for spectators with other safety protocols.

• smaller outdoor entertainment venues may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less.

• movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30% of capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less;

• bars may operate outdoors only at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.

• outdoor amusement parks may open at 30% occupancy.

• an 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars remains.

Hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, museums and aquariums can also operate at reduced capacity.

Meeting spaces in hotels, conference centers, meeting halls, and reception venues can host receptions, meetings and other functions at capacity limits and with other restrictions.

Letters to county officials

This week, Dr. Mandy Cohen, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, and N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks sent letters to leaders of 36 counties identified by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as areas of concern urging them to implement additional prevention measures

Each of the counties has had at least 300 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks (greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people) or is one of the top three most populous counties in the state. The letters went to leaders of Caldwell, Watauga, Avery and Burke, counties, as well as Alamance, Caswell, Catawba, Chowan, Cleveland, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gaston, Graham, Greene, Guilford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Union, Wake, and Wayne counties.

The letters ask the local leaders to consider taking action such as:

• adopting an ordinance that imposes a civil penalty or fine (separate from issuing a Class 2 misdemeanor) for violating the provisions of a local ordinance that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic.’

• imposing a higher State of Emergency standard than those included in Cooper’s phase three executive order;

• imposing fines for businesses that do not enforce the mask requirements;

• establishing lower mass gathering limits than those required under phase three;

• curtailing the sale of alcohol earlier than 11 pm;

• closing high risk venues such as bars and night spots;

• limiting restaurant service.

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