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Cooper Lowers Limit On Indoor Gatherings With COVID Cases Spiking

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
N.C. Department of Public Safety

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Tuesday that lowers the limit on indoor gatherings in North Carolina.

The rising number of new COVID-19 cases in the state is forcing Cooper to reinstate tighter restrictions.

When Phase Three of the governor's reopening plan went into effect more than a month ago, indoor gatherings had been limited to 25 people. Starting Friday, that will go back down to 10. At his latest press briefing, Cooper said his COVID-19 task force is targeting community and family gatherings.

"This is where we've seen the clusters, particularly in October,” Cooper said. “This is where we've seen a large part of the outbreaks, so part of this lowering from 25 to 10 indoors is to send a signal to those groups that this is a problem."

But November is, of course, usually the beginning of a series of gatherings for many families. 

"We're entering, I think, a very dangerous and potentially uncertain time in the holidays. As it gets colder, the virus wants to be more active indoors,” Cooper said.

The State Health Department's daily report on COVID-19 has tracked a steady rise in the number of new cases since September. A record-high 2,900 cases were reported in a single day last week. Hospitalizations are also higher.

But hospitals still have the capacity to care for people with COVID-19 for now. And state officials say they still have the capacity to test tens of thousands of people every day.

State health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen described the latest report like this:

"Bottom line: we are on shaky ground as we head into Thanksgiving,” she said.

Cohen and Cooper have been asking people to reconsider their holiday gatherings, or to at least get a COVID test before they leave on vacation.

"The safest thing we can do for our loved ones is to limit travel and to avoid getting together in person, especially indoors,” Cohen said.

Other Phase Three rules will remain in place, like the 50% capacity limit for restaurants, or limited outdoor seating only for bars. Cooper said he would not immediately reinstate any other restrictions.

"We have not experienced the spikes that a lot of other states have where their hospitals have become overwhelmed, where there has been more sickness and death,” Cooper said. “So we're doing some things right."

But Cooper would not rule out putting restrictions back in place when this executive order expires in three weeks.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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