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Gov. Cooper: North Carolina to stay in Phase 2 for additional 5 weeks

Phase 2 was set to expire on Friday, but Governor Cooper announced the five-week extension saying “it’s time to double down” on strategies that have been working.

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that the state will remain paused in Safer at Home Phase 2 for five weeks. Gov. Cooper said experts believe the mandatory mask order helped to stabilize numbers, but there is more work to do.

Governor Cooper said "stable is good but decreasing is better," adding while numbers are stabilizing it doesn't mean the state can let up on COVID-19 response.

Cooper said since the last COVID-19 update, North Carolina has passed the "solemn benchmark" of 2,000 people who have died due to the coronavirus.

"Every single one of them represents a family in mourning and a community grieving their loss," Gov. Cooper said. "They are more than numbers on a chart — they are North Carolinians who are missed dearly." 

At the press conference Wednesday, NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen shared the latest metrics tracking COVID-19 in North Carolina. She said it appears the state is starting to stabilize, but the rate of cases is still high.

Cohen said she has a "glimmer of hope" as she sees subtle signs of progress within the COVID-19 data for North Carolina.

Watch it live on our YouTube channel. 

Cohen said among the four key metrics, percent positive test rates are level but still high. Likewise, the trajectory of new cases is "stable" but high. Hospitalizations are also level, but Cohen said this will take longer to stabilize.

These metrics impact NC leaders in decisions on whether to move to the next stage of reopening the state.

It's been three weeks since Cooper extended the Phase 2 executive order. Ahead of the press conference, gym and bar owners were waiting to know if they would get to open their doors for the first time since March.

Now, the earliest possible date that bars, gyms and entertainment venues could reopen would be September 11, after the five-week extension. 

RELATED: Cooper makes decision on reopening schools, says NC will stay in Phase 2 at least 3 more weeks

Gov. Cooper said he wouldn't be holding any in-person events for his own re-election campaign due to COVID-19, but said he does hope the state will be able to move into phase three and other phases before a vaccine is offered. 

Cooper has said he would be making decisions based on the state's latest coronavirus data. The last time he extended Phase 2, state health officials were concerned about a rising number of new coronavirus cases as well as rising hospitalizations. 

It comes as schools across the state prepare to reopen in a variety of different ways. Cooper said the success of students, teachers and staff safely returning to classrooms depends on "doing what works." 

"Most North Carolinians are doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 — wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing hands often," Cooper said.