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Cooper orders gyms partially open, keeps bars closed

September 1, 2020 GMT
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Gov. Roy Cooper adjust his mask as he listens to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speak during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)
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Gov. Roy Cooper adjust his mask as he listens to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speak during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Starting Friday, North Carolina will reopen more businesses under a so-called Phase 2.5.

The directive announced Tuesday by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will allow gyms, bowling alleys and other indoor recreational facilities to open at a reduced 30% capacity, but keep other businesses that have been shuttered for months closed longer as the state works toward a Phase 3 reopening.

Citing flattening numbers of COVID-19 cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive, Cooper said North Carolina was equipped to further open its economy. Cooper has kept Phase 2 in effect since late May.

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“Because of our stable numbers, we’re ready to take a careful step forward,” Cooper said in a news conference.

The executive order increases the number of people allowed to gather indoors from 10 to 25 and the number of people who can assemble outdoors from 25 to 50. Cooper’s directive allows playgrounds to reopen and museums and aquariums to operate at 50% capacity.

Bars, movie theaters, nightclubs, dance halls, amusement parks and indoor entertainment venues are to remain closed.

Cooper said the mandate for face coverings will stay in place. If people continue to follow health protocols, he said, he doesn’t anticipate a surge in cases as more businesses open.

“These careful movements forward should not affect the viral spread,” Cooper said.

For months, North Carolina has remained in its second phase of reopening, drawing the ire of some Republicans who worry the state has been too slow to reopen.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is looking to unseat Cooper this November, questioned whether the governor’s decision is being driven by science or politics and said other states have been able to safely open more businesses.

“Other states have their businesses and schools open,” Forest said in a news release. “It’s time for fear and panic to be replaced with hope and opportunity. It’s time for Governor Cooper to actually protect the most vulnerable and give North Carolinians their freedoms and livelihoods back.”

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Follow Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BryanRAnderson.

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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.