FILE - Gov. Roy Cooper NC

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing on North Carolina’s coronavirus pandemic response Friday April 17, 2020, at the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C.

(The Center Square) – Restaurants across North Carolina will be allowed to reopen for in-person dining Friday, when the state enters phase two of its reopening, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday.

Cooper's announcement further eases restrictions placed on businesses across the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state entered phase one of its reopening May 8. Although the stay-at-home order remained in place, parks, trails and certain businesses reopened with limited capacity.

At 5 p.m. Friday, the stay-at-home order expires and becomes a safer-at-home order, and restaurants, among other businesses, can reopen if they follow certain requirements.

"Phase two is another careful step forward," Cooper said. "Since we announced phase one, the state’s overall key indicators remain stable. However, the increases in COVID-19 cases signal a need to take a more modest step forward in phase two than originally envisioned."

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, was leery of Cooper's timing of advancing to phase two Friday.

"I’m glad the governor has responded to the calls of senators, small business owners and unemployed workers to let them get back to work," Berger said. "When I asked Gov. Cooper to reopen restaurants and personal care services last week, the governor said it wasn’t safe to do so. But according to data for [Tuesday], when the governor began notifying people of his decision, North Carolina had more cases, more hospitalizations, and fewer tests performed than when I issued my call last week."

Restaurants that reopen will be required to follow various criteria pertaining to social distancing and minimizing exposure, cleaning and hygiene, and monitoring for symptoms. Restaurants will be required to:

• Arrange tables and seating to keep at least 6 feet of separation between parties for indoor and outdoor dining;

• Permit no more than 50 percent of maximum occupancy as stated in fire capacity or 12 people per 1,000 feet if there is not a fire code number available.

• Post the reduced “Emergency Maximum Capacity” in a conspicuous place and post signage reminding people to practice social distancing;

• Mark 6 feet of spacing in lines at high-traffic areas;

• Perform ongoing and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas with an EPA approved disinfectant for coronavirus;

• Increase disinfection during peak times or high customer density times and on all shared objects between use;

• Disinfect dining tables and booths, including condiment containers and reusable menus, between each use;

• Promote frequent use of hand washing and hand sanitizer for wait/food service staff upon reporting to work and frequently throughout shift;

• Conduct daily symptom screening of employees at the entrance, and immediately send symptomatic workers home to isolate;

• Post signage at the main entrance requesting people who have been symptomatic with fever and/or cough not to enter;

• Immediately separate from other employees, customers and visitors and send home employees who have symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during work.

Personal care services businesses, such as salons and barbershops, will be allowed to open at 50 percent of capacity with face covering and cleaning requirements. Swimming pools also will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Many businesses must remain closed in phase two, including bars, nightclubs, gyms, indoor fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and museums. Public playgrounds must also remain closed.

“While North Carolina’s reopening has lagged our neighboring competitors for too long, this is welcome news for thousands of families who rely on revenue from businesses in our state,” said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. “All business rely on certainty from state government to plan for challenges ahead in any economic circumstance, so it is essential that moving forward our economic response to this pandemic be based in transparent data that considers stark contrasts in urban and rural regions of our state.”

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said she anticipates North Carolina being in phase two for five weeks.

Regional Editor

Jason Schaumburg is an award-winning, veteran editor who has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He spent a decade as the top editor in three northern Illinois newsrooms for Shaw Media and Pioneer Press.