CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina officials are expected to announce this week if the state will move into Phase 3 as owners of businesses that remain closed wait to find out if they can reopen.
Wedding venues, gyms, and bars are some of the businesses that are still shutdown.
Byron Sackett, owner of Homesteads Events in Gastonia, has not been able to legally hold events at his venue since March, while other states surrounding North Carolina have reopened.
"It's super frustrating,” Sackett said. “I mean the dollars are going across the border. When Governor McMaster's opened South Carolina was ahead of North Carolina, we started seeing our brides going over there, canceling events with us, and we're losing those events."
Due to First Amendment rights, there is no limit on the number of people allowed at wedding ceremonies in the state, but indoor wedding receptions cannot have more than 10 people.
"We can have a thousand people for a ceremony, which is kind of ironic, but then when we come here [reception part of venue], we can only have 10,” Sackett said. “So, you got to pick your 10 best friends."
A bill to allow amusement parks, gaming and business establishments with video games and arcade games, fairs, carnivals, and venues for receptions or parties to resume operations with strict guidelines has passed in the North Carolina Senate.
If passed into law, it would allow wedding venues like Homesteads Events to reopen at 50% capacity or 300 people, whichever is less. All guests and employees would have to have their temperature taken. Employees would be required to wear masks, and guests would be encouraged to wear masks. Other sanitation guidelines would have to be implemented.
Sackett even said contact tracing would be fairly easy since each guest’s information is usually included on an invite list for the event.
"It's frustrating that other businesses are allowed to have 150, 200, even a thousand people in their businesses at a time with not near the contact tracing, the special precautions that we can take in our industry that no others can,” Sackett added.
Between the bill to allow wedding venues the opportunity to reopen and the possibility of the state moving into Phase 3, Sackett is hopeful he can reopen soon so couples feel comfortable moving forward with their wedding plans.
"Give us our last lifeline,” Sackett said. “Let us open. We need to open because if we don't, instead of us being able to support ourselves and our families, the government's going to end up supporting a lot of people who are unemployed and out of business.”
Bars in North Carolina face a similar predicament.
"It's frustrating to watch customers walk by our shuttered bars and climb up, you know, onto the patio next door and continue to drink,” said Zack Medford, president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA). “They don't have to order food. They can have that same beer they were going to get at my bar if they go sit inside a restaurant and have that same drink."
According to NCBATA, 85% of the state’s ABC permit-holders have been allowed to reopen, while private bars have been shut down for 97 days.
Governor Cooper vetoed a bill on Friday that would have allowed gyms to reopen at 50% capacity and would have allowed bars to open at limited capacity for outside seating.
The NCBATA has also filed a lawsuit for a temporary restraining order for the right to reopen and is waiting for a decision.
"Treat bars the exact same as restaurant bars, hotel bars, brewery bars,” said Medford.
In a news conference on Monday, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Dr. Mandy Cohen said state officials are closely watching the COVID-19 data and trends before making a decision if the state will move into Phase 3 by the end of the week.
Cohen did not say what businesses, if any, would be allowed to reopen in Phase 3.
"We are trying to find the right balance here between reigniting the economy and protecting the public health,” Cohen said.