By Rick Henderson
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Tattoo parlors are safe enough to reopen. Gyms, yoga studios, and public playgrounds aren’t.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Wednesday, May 20, allowing a partial reopening of some businesses under what he termed a “Safer at Home Phase Two” to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina. While some businesses can conduct limited operations starting Friday at 5 p.m., entire classifications of commerce will remain locked up for another five weeks — if not longer. Mass gatherings also will remain limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, with the exception of religious services and funerals.
Cooper and state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen cited statistics they say show trends improving over the most recent 14-day period. Testing numbers increasing. The percentage of positive tests for the novel coronavirus dropping. The number of hospitalizations statewide flattening.
Still, Cooper said, “We need to move in a more cautious way … than we would have originally planned.”
When Cooper outlined the phases at the end of April, a host of business categories would reopen in Phase Two, with limits on customer counts — among them dine-in restaurants, private clubs, hair and nail salons, gyms, indoor fitness facilities, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, nightclubs, public playgrounds, and pools.
Some made the cut. Others were cut out. The reason? Some activities, the governor said, weren’t safe indoors. The virus was likely to spread in places where people were close to each other and were handling items that might not be sanitary.
Owners and patrons of gyms, indoor fitness centers, movie theaters and performance halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, public playgrounds, and bars will have to wait.
Even those businesses that resume operations Friday face occupancy caps. Restaurants can serve only 50% of their fire-code limits, with tables six feet apart and waitstaff following social-distancing practices. Likewise, hair and nail salons (and tattoo parlors) must leave half their chairs or stations empty.
Public pools can open, at 50% capacity and with fewer than 10 people in the water per 1,000 square feet.
“Most businesses are open now, it’s important to point out,” Cooper said. Though he neglected to say entire categories of businesses will remain dark for weeks.
Many that can reopen may choose not to. Lynn Minges, head of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, told Carolina Journal she expects only 50-60% of the 19,500 members of her group may reopen under the limits of Phase Two.
One that won’t is the popular watering hole Top of the Hill, at the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets in the heart of Chapel Hill.
Owner Scott Maitland told CJ in an email his business can’t operate profitably at 50% capacity “during the best of times.” With no students expected in town until early August, the earliest he anticipates seating diners is July 4.
The governor seemed to leave open the prospect that shuttered businesses may never reopen on his watch. When asked if the next round of reopening would occur after five weeks, he said, “Hopefully, we can move into Phase Three and do it safely.”
One reporter anticipated resistance to the limits, citing some local law enforcement leaders who’ve said they won’t prosecute business owners who defy the emergency order.
Cooper shrugged off the concerns. “Most law enforcement will welcome this cautious move into Phase Two,” he said. “We hope everybody will stick together and look out for each her.”