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NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina will loosen coronavirus restrictions at some outdoor and entertainment venues later this week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. Under a new executive order, movie theaters, outdoor stadiums and amusement parks will be allowed to open with limited capacity as of Friday.

The news comes as state health officials report increases in the percent of test positives and number of cases reported in schools.

“Today, we’re cautiously encouraged about where we are in this pandemic,” Cooper said during a news conference announcing the new executive order. “The key indicators we watch in North Carolina remain mostly stable. But I have to tell you that we see warning signs that the disease could spike again, here and across the country.”

The new “Phase 3” restrictions will go into effect Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. and remain in effect through Oct. 23. Cooper said the mask mandate would likely stay in effect long term until there was a vaccine or cure for the virus.

“If you’re still at high-risk, you’re still safer at home,” Cooper said. “If you’re going out, do what works — wear a mask, keep social distancing, wash your hands often and don’t patronize or go to places where people aren’t doing that.”

Here’s what will change with Phase 3 that goes into effect Friday, Oct. 2:

  • Large outdoor gatherings with seating of more than 10,000 may operate with 7 percent occupancy for spectators with safety protocols

  • Smaller outdoor entertainment venues may operate at 30 percent capacity, or up to 100 guests, which ever is less

  • Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30 percent capacity, or 100 seated guests

  • Bars may operate outdoors only at 30 percent of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests

  • Outdoor amusement parks may open at 30 percent capacity

  • Limits on mass gatherings will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors

  • Statewide 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales of in-person consumption will be extended

The number of known cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina rose to 210,632 Wednesday, an increase of 1,495 cases confirmed in the span of a day, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are stable but fragile,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said.

The percentage of positive coronavirus tests has steadily increased in the past week, according to DHHS data. As of Sept. 28, the percent positive rate in the state was nearly 7 percent, up from about 4.6 percent reported Sept. 24.

Cohen said that overall, the percent positive rate remained level. “We have been at or just under 5 percent of tests coming back positive over the last two weeks,” she said, acknowledging the increase in recent days. Around the state, the percent of visits to hospital emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms is also slightly increasing, she said.

The new restrictions are set to end a week before Halloween. “Halloween’s not canceled,” but it’s going to have to look a little different, Cohen said. “We want to make sure people are wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and washing their hands,” she said.

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North Carolina public health officials reported 3,532 deaths Wednesday, an increase of 38 lives lost to the virus in the span of a day.

As of Wednesday, there were 141 positive COVID-19 cases associated with 15 clusters reported in North Carolina schools, up from 123 cases and 14 clusters reported Tuesday. DHHS defines a cluster as five or more lab-confirmed cases that are linked.

Hospitalizations remained steady throughout the state, with 956 patients hospitalized Wednesday, six more than reported Tuesday.

A Sept. 30 survey of 97 percent of the state’s hospitals reported that there were 5,058 empty staffed inpatient hospital beds and 507 empty staffed intensive care unit beds remaining in the state. Ventilators also remained in supply, according to the survey, with 2,492 available, DHHS said.

Globally, more than 33.7 million people have been infected by COVID-19, and more than 1 million people have died, Johns Hopkins University reported Wednesday. In the United States, more than 7.1 million people have been infected and more than 206,000 people have died from COVID-19.

This article originally appeared on the Charlotte Patch

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