Reopening Resources

Overview of Phases

North Carolina moved into Safer at Home Phase 3 on Friday, October 2 at 5 pm.

Phase 3

On December 8, Governor Cooper tightened stay home restrictions. Executive Order 181 requires people to stay at home between 10 pm and 5 am and will be in place until at least January 8, 2021. 

Following Governor Cooper’s tightened mask restrictions, Buncombe County Commission Chairman Brownie Newman and City of Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer approved a new declaration to further limit gatherings that will go into effect on Jan. 2, 2021.

  • Certain businesses and facilities are ordered to close to the public between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (the “Night-Time Public Closure Period”).
  • This includes restaurants (with exceptions for take-out and delivery, as noted below), bars, entertainment venues, parks, museums and aquariums, certain retail establishments, and other businesses and facilities specified below and in the Order.
  • All individuals in North Carolina must stay at home or the place they will remain for the night between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (the “Stay at Home Period”) unless an exception applies.
  • The sale and service of alcoholic beverages are prohibited for on-site consumption between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Events or convenings outside of the home must end by 10:00 p.m. and guests must leave the establishment and travel home or to the place where they will stay for the night.
  • The capacity limitations on certain businesses, indoor and outdoor gathering limits, and other public health measures implemented by previous executive orders are extended through January 8, 2021.
  • The gathering limits remain at ten (10) individuals for indoor settings and fifty (50) individuals for outdoor settings.
  • The limitations on certain businesses, sanitation standards, and other public health restrictions outlined in the Phase 3 Executive Order and NCDHHS Guidance remain in effect.
  • A face covering is still required in all public indoor settings if there are nonhousehold members present, regardless of the individual’s ability to maintain social distance. Face coverings continue to be required in public outdoor settings if individuals are unable to maintain six feet of social distance from non-household members.
  • Retail business locations with more than 15,000 square feet of interior space must continue to have a worker at each entrance open to the public, who is responsible for enforcing the executive orders’ face covering and capacity limitations.

See Phase 3 FAQs

Further Buncombe County Restrictions

Section 7.3.a. of Executive Order No. 181 states, in part, that nothing therein “is intended to limit or prohibit counties and cities in North Carolina from enacting ordinances and issuing state of emergency declarations which impose greater restrictions or prohibitions to the extent authorized under North Carolina law.” Accordingly, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Governor’s Executive Orders, further restrictions are imposed in Buncombe County as follows:

  • a. Section 3.13. Restaurants. c. Requirements. 1. a. of Executive Order No. 181 is modified in Buncombe County to read: ” Limit the number of Guests in the restaurant to thirty percent (30%) of stated fire capacity (or, for spaces without a stated fire capacity, no more than twelve (12) Guests for every one thousand (1000) square feet of the location’s total square footage, including the parts of the location that are not accessible to Guests).”
  • b. Section 5. Mass Gatherings. 5.1. Prohibition. of Executive Order No. 181 is modified in Buncombe County to read: “Prohibition. Mass Gatherings are prohibited. “Mass Gathering” means an event or convening which brings together more than two (2) people indoors or more than fifty (50) people outdoors at the same time in a single confined indoor or outdoor space. This includes parades, fairs, or festivals. In publicly accessible indoor facilities, the Mass Gathering limit applies per room of the facility. When more than two (2) people reside in the same household, residing together does not form a Mass Gathering.”

See full declaration

Phase 1
  • Modify the Stay At Home order allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers.
  • Ensure that any open stores implement appropriate employee and consumer social distancing, enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols, symptom screening of employees, accommodations for vulnerable workers, and provide education to employees and workers to combat misinformation
  • Continue to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people
  • Reopen parks that have been closed subject to the same gathering limitation. Outdoor exercise will continue to be encouraged.
  • Continue to recommend face coverings in public spaces when 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible
  • Encourage employers to continue teleworking policies
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings
  • Local emergency orders with more restrictive measures may remain in place.

On May 5, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order No. 138 to modify North Carolina’s Stay At Home order and transition to Phase 1 of slowly easing certain COVID-19 restrictions effective Friday, May 8 at 5 pm. This order is currently set to expire on May 22, 2020.

On May 7, Buncombe County Commission Chairman Newman signed a declaration aligning Buncombe County with Governor Cooper’s executive order with the sole exception of a continued restriction on Leisure Travel Booking.

Phase 2

What is different about Phase 2 compared to Phase 1?

  • Lifts the Stay at Home Order and moves the state to a Safer at Home recommendation;
  • Allows restaurants to open for on-premises dining with limits on occupancy, specific requirements for disinfection of common spaces, and six feet between each group of customers sitting at each table;
  • Allows child care businesses to open to serve all children, as long as they follow state health guidelines;
  • Allows overnight camps to operate, following specific public health requirements and guidance;
  • Allows personal care, grooming, massage, and tattoo businesses to open with specific requirements for disinfection of equipment, face coverings for the service providers, six feet of distance between customers, and at 50 percent reduced occupancy;
  • Allows indoor and outdoor pools to open with 50 percent reduced occupancy, following specific public health requirements;
  • Allows people to gather together for social purposes, so long as they do not exceed the mass gathering limit of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors; and
  • Allows sporting and entertainment events to occur in large venues for broadcast to the public, so long as the events occur in large venues and spectators are limited to the mass gathering limit of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

What stays the same in Phase 2?

  • The Three Ws (Wear, Wait, Wash) should be practiced;
  • Public playgrounds remain closed;
  • Bars and nightclubs remain closed;
  • Movie theaters, museums, bowling alleys, amusement parks, arcades, and skating rinks remain closed;
  • Bingo parlors and other gaming establishments remain closed;
  • Teleworking continues to be encouraged whenever possible; and
  • Visitation at long-term care facilities remains restricted, except for certain compassionate care situations; and
  • The following facilities that operate within an indoor space remain closed: spas, exercise facilities, gyms, fitness studios, martial arts facilities, dance studios, trampoline and rock-climbing facilities, roller skating rinks, ice staking rinks, and basketball courts.

On May 20, Governor Cooper signed Executive Order 141 moving North Carolina into Safer At Home or Phase 2 beginning on Friday, May 22 at 5 pm. This order is effective until June 26. On June 24, North Carolina Governor announces we will stay in Safer At Home Phase 2 and adds a Statewide Requirement for Face Coverings. Executive Order No. 141 shall remain in effect, as amended below, until 5:00 pm on July 17, 2020.

On May 22, Buncombe County issued a superseding Stay Safer at Home Declaration that will go into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22, 2020 and will remain in effect until June 26, 2020, unless otherwise repealed, replaced, or rescinded and transitions to Phase 2 of slowly easing certain COVID-19 restrictions.

Stay Safer at Home Declaration includes greater restrictions on Leisure Travel, Buncombe County Facilities, and Food Service Establishments. Additionally, starting on May 26 at 7 pm facial coverings must be worn in public commercial facilities.

Governor Cooper signed Executive Order (EO) No. 151, which went into effect July 17, 2020, at 5 p.m., and Buncombe County will be fully aligning with this new order. EO 151 extends Phase 2 of Reopening until Aug. 7. Buncombe County Public Health has issued a superseding Stay Safe, Stay Smart Declaration that will go into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 17, 2020, and will remain in effect until Aug. 7, 2020, unless otherwise repealed, replaced, or rescinded.

On August 5, North Carolina Governor announced that we will stay in Safer At Home Phase 2 for another 5 weeks. Executive Order No. 155 shall remain in effect until 5:00 pm on September 11, 2020. 


Phase 2.5

On September 1, Governor Cooper announced that we will move to Safer At Home Phase 2.5 until September 22. Executive Order No. 163 shall remain in effect until 5:00 pm on September 22, 2020. 

  • Mass gathering limits will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors from the current limit of 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.
  • Playgrounds may open.
  • Museums and aquariums may open at 50% capacity.
  • Gyms and indoor exercise facilities, such as yoga studios, martial arts, and rock climbing, as well as skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball, volleyball etc., may open at 30% capacity.
  • Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment facilities, amusement parks, dance halls will remain closed.
  • Large venues remain subject to the mass gathering limits.

Learn More


Signage is required. You are welcome to use these or create your own.

Customer Education & Safety

Screening customers before they arrive at the place of business is the best way to reduce the risk of transmission. This means having information posted on your website and signage posted on your place of business telling customers not to enter if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. 

Please note: temperature checks, while important, are only one tool in an effective screen method. COVID-19 can remain dormant and some individuals who have contracted COVID-19 will not necessarily experience fevers.

Other Considerations

Buncombe County is also recommending that you:

  • If making appointments, have individuals wait in their vehicles until ready.
  • Have greeters near the entrance and have an employee open and close doors for individuals.
  • Displaying consistent and easily visible signage throughout the facility providing guidance for social distancing and proper PPE use.
  • Have designated hours for seniors and other high-risk populations.
  • Develop and use systems that allow online, email, or phone orders, no-contact curbside or drive through pick-up or home delivery, and contact-free checkout.
  • Provide routing assistance through aisles in the stores.


Anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act, continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. These laws do not interfere with, or prevent employers from following, the guidelines and suggestions issued by the CDC or state and local public health authorities regarding COVID-19. Supplement guidance for employers can be found on the EEOC website.

Cash Payments

Payment transactions should be handled with extreme caution. Cash payments should be allowed for those without other means.

Business Notifications

Businesses will not be reported but the manager may be contacted by a communicable disease nurse if employees or customers have been in close contact with a positive case. This is called contact tracing and those who have been identified as close contacts – will be contacted by a Communicable Disease Nurse. This follow up call is a way to make sure that everyone is as safe as possible and helps us to contain the outbreak to the best of our ability.



Wearing cloth face coverings is a public health measure that people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19- especially if you are not able to maintain physical distancing. Please note that the “face coverings” differ from “face masks” (e.g., N95, KN95). Surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers or other medical first responders, as recommended by CDC guidance. Additionally, cloth face coverings are washable and can be reused.

The County has aligned with Federal and State guidance which does not mandate the use of face coverings in public. The current recommendations provided by Buncombe County strongly recommend that members of the general public wear cloth face coverings in public settings. Children above the age of 2 years old are recommended to wear cloth face coverings. Stay up to date on the latest guidance at

Owners and operators are able to set their own standards as long as they are stricter than the state and Buncombe County recommendations. In every decision, businesses should exercise equity, fairness, and consistency when requiring cloth face coverings.


Gloves should be used with discretion. The best strategy for hand hygiene is to wash your hands and use sanitizer after any contact with your face, other people, or any high-use surface.

Please note: To keep demand low for our first responders and medical staff, customers/patients should be advised to bring their own cloth face coverings. Businesses are more than welcome to provide any PPE they have in stock. Please note that medical-grade PPE should be reserved for medical professionals and first responders.


Under Phase, Retail is allowed to operate at 50% capacity. However, patrons should stay 6 feet apart. At point of sale or other high capacity areas it is recommended that you mark off 6 ft intervals for patrons. It is also suggested that, where possible, aisles be marked as one-way to further limit interactions. Customers should be discouraged from sampling or touching merchandise wherever possible.

Waive, instead of shaking hands or hugging, from a safe 6 ft distance.

Both indoor and outdoor gatherings are still limited to no more than 10 people at this time.


It is recommended that businesses provide hand sanitizer stations whenever possible and handwashing stations, as well as plus soap and hand drying materials at sinks.

Staff Health & Hygiene

Employers should consider a health care provider’s diagnosis of COVID19 made on symptoms alone to be valid as a diagnosis made with a confirmed test. Employers should not require employees reporting COVID-19 infection to present a COVID-19 positive test result before excusing them from work. Employers may ask for the name of the physician providing the diagnosis. Employees must be offered 80 hours of paid sick leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Employees who work fewer hours than 40 hours per week are entitled to emergency paid sick leave on a pro-rata basis. The employer must ask the Public Health Department how to track and advise other employees who may have been exposed to the employee who has COVID-19. It is important to not go ahead and take this step without consulting the Public Health Department.

Workers should stay at least 6 ft away from each other and customers. Under the current Phase 1 orders, you are also required to do a daily health screening of staff. BC recommends staggering shifts, reducing staff capacity, screening staff on a regular basis, practicing social distancing, and wearing proper PPE where possible. It is also recommended to have a plan for isolating workers if symptoms develop, and immediately send symptomatic workers home.


Cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing all common areas, high traffic areas, and high-touch surfaces should be completed as often as possible. Any objects that may seem difficult to sanitize should be removed.

General Supplies


Local Hand Sanitizer & Masks

Liability Considerations

While lobbyists are pushing for federal legislation to protect business owners from lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposure, there is currently no legislation in place. To protect yourself and your business it is wise to enact some sort of social contract and waiver. This could be as simple as an agreement between you are your employees stating what you expect from them, what they can expect from you in return, and that as long as you both follow this agreement they waive your right to sue over COVID-19 exposure and illness.

For patrons, this could be signage posted that says by entering the building they agree to follow the posted rules and waive their right to sue, or a disclaimer that says “by purchasing this ticket you agree to…”, “you understand that…”, and “you waive your right to sue over COVID-19 exposure and illness.”


Reopening Guidelines & FAQs