Governor Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced a new Executive Order that will halt all alcohol sales after 11 p.m. statewide at restaurants.
It will go into effect on July 31.
The curfew, according to the governor, is especially critical to reducing late-night crowds and limiting mass gatherings, even at restaurants which by previous orders cannot exceed 50 percent capacity. Even with bars closed however, many establishments that meet a certain threshold of food sales to stay open turn into de facto bars in twilight hours.
"We want to prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours," Cooper said. "We're hopeful that this new rule can help drive down cases."
The City of Raleigh instituted a similar mandate earlier this month.
"Let's face it, when people consume alcohol they're not making good choices," Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin said. "Not everybody, but some, so we just want to reduce that risk and do so in a responsible way."
Orange County also announced that it would be limiting alcohol sales and in-person dining at restaurants as early as 10 p.m. Mecklenburg County, the second-largest North Carolina county, is finalizing its proclamation on an alcohol sales cutoff at restaurants.
Per the new order, local ordinances can mandate an earlier last call.
"This is not something I wanted to do, our restaurants have already taken some huge hits, they just started getting back on their feet," Baldwin added. "I think we all hoped in May we would be coming out of this and the fact is we're not."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen reinforced that conclusion in an updated presentation on data and trends.
Despite Cohen's assessment that cases are "stabilizing", she said the near daily tally of 2,000 or so new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a positivity rate hovering at 8-10 percent is still concerning.
Once again, the data pointed to adults 25-49 making up nearly half of all positive cases, further fueling a narrative and perception that young people -- despite having mild to no symptoms at all -- are the simmering embers of the virus responsible for igniting hot spots across the Southeast, Texas, Arizona and California.
Earlier this summer, seven bars in Raleigh's Glenwood South district received warning letters from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for operating in possible violation of Cooper's Executive Order closing bars.
According to that order, establishments that obtain less than 30 percent of their revenue from food sales are considered bars not restaurants. Restaurants are allowed to open with other restrictions, but bars are not.
Phase 2 of easing restrictions, which keeps bars and gyms closed, has been extended twice by the governor because of rising cases and hospitalizations. The order is currently set to expire on August 7.