Gov. Cooper outlines how NC would reopen economy, lift social distancing restrictions amid COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As North Carolina hits the halfway point in Gov. Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order, Cooper discussed what would need to happen for officials to consider reopening the state economy and lift social distancing restrictions.

In a news conference Wednesday, Cooper said because of the current stay-at-home order, North Carolina is well-suited to handle the current number of COVID-19 cases statewide.

"North Carolina has the capacity to treat patients who contract the virus," Cooper said. "Our efforts to flatten the curve are working, and that means that we have saved lives."

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Gov. Roy Cooper said the state would need to improve in 3 major areas before deciding when and how to reopen some businesses.

However, Cooper noted that the current situation is not sustainable. "We can't stay home forever," Cooper said. "We want to get back to work."

In order to lift restrictions, Cooper said North Carolina would need to make progress in three areas:
  1. Testing: The governor would like to implement a more consistent testing protocol and an increase in testing capabilities. Cooper said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen is working to make sure testing is widely available, including antibody testing to see who has already been exposed to the virus.
  2. Contact Tracing: Health officials are trying to determine how to balance privacy while making sure anyone who comes in contact with a COVID-19 patient can be tested. Cooper said he will increase the public health workforce to allocate more people to contact tracing.
  3. Trends: Health officials will need to determine how COVID-19 is spreading and accelerating in North Carolina--in terms of number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations. "In order to ease restrictions, we have to see COVID-19 trends move in the right direction," Cooper said.

Cooper's stay-at-home order is set to expire April 29. The governor has not yet announced whether he will extend the order into May or June.

RELATED: What is an 'essential activity' under Gov. Cooper's Stay-at-Home order?

However, Cooper said when restrictions are lifted, North Carolina will enter a "new normal" in which more people wear masks or get their temperature checked, sporting events have no in-person crowds, and nursing homes and prisons keep strict visitor restrictions.

"A new normal can get us back to work, back to school and back to play, but in a new way for a while," Cooper said.

RELATED: Waiters wearing masks? Every other pew empty at church? NC congressman pitches possible ideas for reopening the state

Cooper encouraged North Carolinians not to think of social distancing restrictions as an on-off switch, all or nothing. Rather, he said to think of reopening the state as a dimmer--a slow return to daily life while monitoring for spikes in cases.

"I'm anxious to get North Carolina back to normal, but we have to be realistic for a while. There will be a new normal for a while," Cooper said. "And we will beat this virus."

As of Wednesday, at least 5,123 cases and 117 deaths have been reported across 93 North Carolina counties.

In a media briefing Tuesday, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said state officials are seeing some trends that show social distancing is working. Cohen said the doubling rate for COVID-19 -- the amount of time it takes for cases to double across the state -- is increasing. However, Cohen said cases will continue to rise during the next week, and epidemiologists are still unable to predict whether a peak in cases will occur or when that peak would come.

Earlier this month, state epidemiologists and data scientists said if all social distancing policies are lifted on April 29, there is a greater than 50 percent chance North Carolina's hospitals will become overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 cases.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

Data from the Small Business Association showed at least 23,786 loans have been approved for North Carolina small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Plan, totaling nearly $6 billion. However, many small business owners have said they have had trouble applying for loans, and some even participated in a protest to reopen the state Tuesday.

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