North Carolina's outdoor mask mandate lifted, but don't leave your mask at home

This weekend is the first in nearly a year that many North Carolinians will choose to drop their face masks while outside in public.

Gov. Roy Cooper's latest executive order still requires masks be worn indoors, but drops the statewide outdoor mask mandate, effective Friday at 5 p.m.

The mandate had been in effect since June of 2020, requiring anyone over the age of 5 to wear a face covering in outdoor settings when social distancing of six feet could not be maintained.

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Here's why you shouldn't leave your face mask at home, though.

The new order reads that North Carolinians are encouraged to wear face coverings outdoors in certain crowded, dense, and higher-risk settings when they can't social distance.

Certain privately-owned businesses are also planning to keep their current COVID-19 safety measures in place, including mask wearing.

At Whiskey Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, patrons are told to wear a mask while moving about the restaurant; once seated at their table, they're allowed to take them off.

Even with a large outdoor dining patio, that safety protocol will stay in effect, according to a restaurant manager.

"I am absolutely ready for all of this to be over with," said JoAnna Harrison, server at Whiskey Kitchen. "I think our industry has probably been one of the one's that's been hit the hardest."

Harrison, while hopeful the end to the pandemic is drawing closer, said she feels at ease with the restaurant's safety measures of mask wearing, sanitizing, and social distancing in place.

Gov. Cooper's announcement this week that he was lifting the outdoor mask mandate gave her pause.

"A little apprehensive at first, naturally, just because I do still feel like we're in the midst of everything," she said. "But I am happy to see a little bit of normalcy coming back."

At Raleigh's Pullen Park, parents are also considering what this relaxing of safety measures will mean for their next outing.

"I'm a little surprised I guess just cause it's been so strict here in North Carolina," said Kimberly Clayton, mom of three. "I'm not fully vaccinated yet so I'll still wear mine."

Serena Bethea, a mom of two, said dropping the mask mandate means her family will likely keep their distance from public outdoor spaces.

"We'll probably stay, like not go out as much or try to stay more to ourselves because I'm just not comfortable with it yet," she said.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can consider a small, outdoor gathering with both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people, a low risk activity to attend without wearing a mask. In that same scenario, the CDC said unvaccinated people should continue wearing a mask.

When it comes to crowded outdoor events such as a live performance, parade, or sports event, the CDC said both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear face coverings to be safe.

On the first Saturday after the outdoor mask mandate was lifted, the Brunson family drove from Johnston County to Pullen Park. The family had their masks on.

"I'm a teacher, so we're still mandated to wear our masks outside at recess, thankfully, at the moment. My recommendation, just keep the mask on outside as much as possible," said mother Kimberley Brunson.

Others enjoyed the afternoon not wearing a mask.

"It feels good, it really does. It's great to see everyone walking around without a mask," said Maxie McElveen from Clayton.

ABC11's Anthony Wilson saw about half the people at Pullen Park masked on the beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Anthony Brunson/Father: It's sparse, I'll tell you that! We'd still rather be safe, err on the safe side here. So wear a mask. Try to be distant," said father Anthony Brunson on mask-wearing in the park.

Jane Clark was visiting from Asheville decided to keep her mask on during her travels.

"We like to be careful and cautious for everyone else around us as well so yes, we do wear masks," said Clark.

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