RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced yet another pause on easing restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will keep businesses like gyms, bars and movie theaters closed.
According to Cooper, the pause will extend Phase 2 of the state's reopening plans by another five weeks until at least Sept. 11.
The most recent executive order, which extends Phase 2, goes into effect Aug. 7 at 5 p.m.
The governor encouraged the citizens of North Carolina not to look at this decision and think nothing is changing, since students are now returning to schools and college campuses. He said state officials continue to rely on the data and trends.
"In North Carolina, we've used a dimmer switch approach to easing restrictions," he said. "This ensured we didn't open too much, too quickly, which health experts say can lead to a devastating increase in cases, sickness and death.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen echoed that sentiment and expressed hope that the month-long pause will give health officials adequate time to gauge the impact of students and faculty interacting with each other on the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"My glimmer of hope remains as we see subtle signs of progress," she said.
In her latest presentation, Dr. Cohen highlighted elevated but declining trends in the overall number of COVID-like syndromic cases, the percentage of positive cases, and the number of patients suffering from COVID-19 needing treatment in the hospital.
"While overall we're seeing signs of stability, we still have much work to do," she said.
Indeed, the state's plans for back to school does allow for in-person instruction, but several districts, including Wake County, will start the academic year exclusively with virtual learning. That could affect the initial assessment of whether children and teenagers in the classroom pose a significant risk to spreading the virus and the severity of that risk.
After signing his Executive Order implementing Phase 2 on May 22, Cooper told ABC11 "there are still people dying every day in North Carolina" and "it was a big deal to lift the Stay at Home order" a message that continues to reverberate several months later.
Last week, Cooper credited the state's mask mandate and greater compliance as reason behind the stabilization.
"I think it's evidence that our 'go slow' approach and making sure that we're emphasizing prevention is making a real difference," Cooper said.
Zack Medford, president of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association, warned in late June that this could be the final blow to myriad small business owners.
"The governor's decision is effectively signing a death warrant for 1,063 bars across North Carolina," he said.
When asked about those plights, the governor expressed remorse but also reminded North Carolinians that their adherence to "The Three W's" - washing hands, waiting six feet apart and wearing masks - is the best way to slow the spread of the virus and reopen businesses safely.