The state has been in Phase 3 since October 2. That allowed movie theatres, amusement parks, and outdoor venues to open at reduced capacity; it also allowed bars to open (with limited outdoor capacity) for the first time since March.
However, COVID-19 trends during the past week have been going in the wrong direction. Cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rates have all increased.
That increase in key metrics is not exclusive to North Carolina. In fact, many states are seeing a similar COVID-19 surge.
"Like states across the country, our numbers continue to be higher than we want. So our work to contain this virus remains critical," Cooper said.
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the surge in cases is not linked to any particular age group, activity, industry or community. She said that fact suggests fatigue associated with proven prevention measures -- such as wearing a mask, waiting more than six feet apart, and washing hands -- could be to blame.
America's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed those sentiments recently by saying, "We've really got to double down on fundamental public health measures."
Cooper's COVID-19 Phase 3 restrictions were set to expire Oct. 23. However, because of the virus' recent surge, Cooper said those restrictions would be extended three more weeks.
He did not opt to add further COVID-19 restrictions by rolling the state back into a previous reopening phase, which is something he has said repeatedly he does not wish to do.
"I'm feeling more confident that we can enforce what we have," Cooper said. "It really takes people working together."
Instead, the state health department sent letters to 36 counties urging them to do more to improve compliance with Phase 3 restrictions.
Thirty-three of the counties--Alamance, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Chowan, Cleveland, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gaston, Graham, Greene, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lincoln, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Union, Watauga and Wayne--were chosen because they had 300 or more new cases in the last 14 days, had been identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern, or had a rate of cases greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people. Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties also received the letter because they are the three most populated counties in the state.
"We hope our local communities can work with us to move some of our troublesome trends in the right direction," Cooper said.
Local small businesses react to Gov. Cooper's Phase 3 extension
The letters urged local governments to adopt ordinances that imposed fines for violating COVID-19 restrictions. They also asked local governments to consider issuing more strict COVID-19 restrictions than those outlined in Phase 3--including fines for businesses that allow customers inside without masks, lower maximum gathering limits, curbing alcohol sale before 11 p.m., closing bars and night clubs, and further limiting restaurant service.
"The incredible work of our local partners has allowed North Carolina to avoid the first and second waves of rapid spikes in COVID-19 positives that devastated so many other states. To protect our communities, we must continue working together in this fight against COVID-19," wrote Cohen and NCDPS Secretary Erik A. Hooks in a joint statement.