Three counties on North Carolina's tourist-reliant Outer Banks announced plans Wednesday to lift coronavirus-related visitor restrictions, although they warned of the need to continue to practice social distancing amid the ongoing pandemic.
In a joint statement, officials in Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties said restrictions on entry for visitors will be lifted at noon on Saturday, May 16. The announcement comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper announced the easing of his statewide stay-at-home order starting this Friday.
"I wish it could have been earlier, but we had to take the steps that were necessary to protect everyone, including our visitors and our non-resident property owners," said Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Commissioners, in a video released with the joint statement.
Entry for visitors includes the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Manteo; Hatteras Island; Roanoke Island; the Dare mainland; the Currituck County Outer Banks; and Ocracoke Island, the statement said.
Specifically, Ocracoke non-resident property owners will be allowed entry starting on May 11, according to Hyde County officials. All non-resident property owners are being advised to bring their own supplies to sustain themselves in their homes, including groceries, medication, paper products and other essentials.
According to the statement, reopening to visitors on May 16 allows seven days for local businesses, attractions, and accommodation providers to prepare to follow new operating requirements put in place by Cooper's executive order. In the modified order, more "non-essential" retail businesses can reopen, provided they don't exceed 50% in capacity. Restaurants can still only offer takeout and delivery meals, however, and bars, salons and gyms must remain closed, the order said.
Officials in the three counties are also reminding potential visitors to observe restrictions such as social distancing because the pandemic is not over. Also, individuals are being encouraged to wear a mask or cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Between the three counties, there have been 19 reported cases of coronavirus and no deaths, according to the latest numbers from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Statewide, there have been more than 12,750 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 99 of the state's 100 counties, with at least 477 deaths. DHHS on Wednesday said 516 were currently hospitalized.
Also, all of North Carolina's state parks will reopen in some capacity as soon as Saturday, according to State Parks spokeswoman Katie Hall. One park -- Gorges State Park in Transylvania County -- may not reopen until next week. Almost 30 of the 41 parks have been closed. All park campgrounds will remain closed for now.
North Carolina regulators continue to report large numbers of cases within long-term care facilities and among workers at food processing plants. There were more than 980 COVID-19 cases from 20 outbreaks at meat-processing facilities in a dozen counties as of Wednesday morning, DHHS said. The agency isn't naming the facilities.
The number of cases at these outbreaks have more than doubled since last week. There has been free testing for workers and family members at some locations.
Last week, DHHS began releasing the names of nursing homes, adult care homes and rehabilitation centers and other corporate living locations where outbreaks have occurred. The department has more direct regulation of these facilities.
The latest data, released Tuesday, shows nine nursing homes reporting at least 10 deaths of residents. The most have occurred at Louisburg Healthcare and Rehab Center in Franklin County, with 18 deaths.