Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced significant rollbacks of restrictions on businesses and other venues, as the rates of COVID19 hospitalizations, deaths and positive cases continue to drop and stabilize across the state.
"After alarmingly high numbers throughout the winter holidays, North Carolina's trends have declined and stabilized," Cooper said. "Hospitalizations have dropped to their lowest point since before Thanksgiving. The percent of tests returning positive continues to decline. This is encouraging."
Specifically, Cooper officially lifted his modified Stay-At-Home closing non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants, and retail, at 10 p.m. nightly. That order, signed in the wake of the Thanksgiving and Christmas surge, also slapped a 9 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.
Though non-essential businesses can stay open late, alcohol sales will still be subject to a curfew, but this time two hours later at 11 p.m.
The changes take effect Friday and are set to expire later in March.
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The sweeping changes also extend to bars and establishments where food sales make up less than 30% of sales. For the first time since March 2020, bars will be permitted to open at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people.
Gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers, pools, outdoor amusement parks, retail establishments, restaurants, breweries and wineries will be able to open at 50% capacity with health and safety protocols.
READ MORE: Cooper's full executive order (.pdf)
Some businesses that were limited to operating outdoors at 30% capacity will still have that percentage but will no longer have a 100-person cap. That includes sports fields and venues, stadiums, outdoor bars, outdoor amusement parks and other outdoor businesses.
The new order will also allow some indoor businesses to open at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people. These businesses include bars and taverns, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters, indoor sports arenas and others.
30% Capacity Limit (may not exceed 250-persons in indoor spaces)
- Meeting, Reception, and Conference Spaces
- Lounges (including tobacco) and Night Clubs
- Indoor areas of Amusement Parks
- Movie Theatres
- Entertainment facilities (e.g., bingo parlors, gaming establishments)
- Sports Arenas and Fields
Indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats may be excepted from the 250 person limit if they follow additional safety measures up to 15% capacity.
50% Capacity Limit
- Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries
- Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities)
- Museums and Aquariums
- Outdoor areas of Amusement Parks
- Salons, Personal Care, Tattoo Parlors
"This is a huge, hard-fought win," said NCBATA President Zack Medford. "The lessening of these restrictions would never have been possible without the tireless efforts of NCBATA members and allies for the past 343 days. We look forward to continuing to build on this success with the Governor's Office, and helping get our bar and taverns back on their feet after such a devastating year."
"Easing these restrictions will only work if we keep protecting ourselves and others from this deadly virus," Cooper said. "The order and our own common sense say that health and safety protocols must remain in place."
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Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC Secretary of Health and Human Services, praised North Carolinians' efforts to slow the spread and keep up with "The 3 Ws," which she credited for empowering the governor to begin to ease restrictions.
Cohen still warned, however, that trends, while positive, are "still not where we need to be" in terms of viral spread.
Wednesday's news conference occurred on the same day as the state opened vaccinations to teachers and other school staff members. In Wake County, 10,000 school workers have already signed up for the waitlist.
Other essential workers in Group 3 will be eligible to sign up for appointments beginning next month.
NC House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said after Wednesday's House session said he was "encouraged that the intent and action of the General Assembly has led the Governor in this direction" and said he was "glad" Cooper took this step.
"I have spoken to the governor and shared with him our thoughts that we really need to be reopening the state," Moore said. "The trends are moving in the right direction, many of the restrictions go too far, and we have businesses who are really hurting."