“The waiting is the hardest part.”

The late Tom Petty wasn’t referring to COVID-19 when he wrote and sang those words.

But the same sentiments apply.

And in North Carolina, the wait will continue.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper extended state restrictions, including stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines, at least through May 8.

“I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals, and easing these restrictions now would do that,” the governor said, citing the rising number of cases in the state, which had climbed to 7,608 as of Thursday, including 253 deaths.

But the governor also unveiled a plan for a gradual reopening the state through three phases, each with fewer restrictions, over a series of weeks.

“It’s going to depend on the facts,” Cooper said.

Phase one includes opening a wider range of stores, services and parks, as long as social-distancing restrictions are followed. He projected that phase lasting two or three weeks.

Phase two allows the remaining business limitations to be lifted while encouraging vulnerable populations to remain at home. This phase will likely be two or three weeks.

Phase three calls for fewer restrictions but continues rigorous restrictions on nursing homes.

The plan would be executed with careful monitoring, so that if conditions worsen, restrictions could be tightened.

“North Carolina is in a very good place … but we’re not quite there yet,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary.

Many people will be disappointed — especially Republican lawmakers. And, for a second time, protesters gathered last week in Raleigh to press the governor to reopen the state.

But the loudest voices may not necessarily be the most representative ones.

The general public still appears to favor a more measured and cautious approach to rollbacks of stay-at-home policies.

In a poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, 65% of respondents said it may take at least until June or later for Americans to be able to safely gather in groups of 10 or more. There was a partisan split: 77% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents supported the later opening. Still, 51% of Republicans and those who lean Republican also saw the later date as the safer option. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found similar results, although the partisan split was wider.

Meanwhile, even as President Donald Trump continues to encourage the “Reopen” protests, Cooper’s plan follows the benchmarks prescribed by the White House. A premature reopening could trigger a new wave of COVID-19 cases worse than the initial crisis, say experts, including one of Trump’s top advisers on the pandemic.

“So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back.,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday.

That doesn’t mean the costs aren’t painful, to businesses and schools and other institutions. But they are unavoidable.

The waiting is the hardest part. But it’s also the wisest path.

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