North Carolina sees its worst day of new COVID-19 cases

North Carolina saw its largest daily number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday with 743, bringing the Tar Heel State's total to more than 16,500 as it continues with the first phase of its reopening plan.

Before Thursday, the largest daily number was May 7, when the state saw 648 new COVID-19 cases.

A day later, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) began phase one of the his plan to reopen the state, allowing retailers to reopen at half of their capacity while still following social distancing and other safety protocols. Gatherings of 10 or fewer people outside also became permitted again. Restaurants haven't yet resumed dine-in services, however, and salons, barbers, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses remain closed.

North Carolina has gradually ramped up its testing capacity, which could possibly account for the record number of daily cases. Health experts also point to the percentage of positive tests when looking to see if a state is effectively curbing the spread of the virus.

The reopening guidelines rolled out by the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that a state must demonstrate, among other things, a 14-day downward trajectory in either daily cases or percentage of positive cases before reopening. Since peaking at 17 percent in mid-April, North Carolina's percentage of positive cases comes to around 7 percent. It's stayed between 5 and 9 percent since the beginning of the month.

Cooper has said that the state could possibly move on to the second phase of reopening on May 22 if it continues to show progress, but he has cautioned that it's not a guarantee.

“Our COVID-19 decisions are guided by the data and science,” Cooper said this week, The News and Observer reported. “We’ll use the time in this phase to keep a careful eye on the indicators before we are ready to announce the start of Phase Two.”