Gov. Roy Cooper to reduce COVID restrictions, allow some places to reopen at 100 percent capacity

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
NC bars, restaurants and gyms can allow more people starting Friday, Gov. Cooper announces
Starting Friday, more businesses in North Carolina can allow more customers.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper announced a further easing of COVID-19 restrictions in light of continued vaccination efforts and improving metrics.

"Our fast and fair vaccine distribution and our sustained progress with the COVID-19 metrics tell us we can move forward with easing restrictions if we do it safely," Cooper said.

Executive Order No. 204 will also increase mass gathering limits. The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 25 to 50 and the number of people who may gather outdoors will increase from 50 to 100.

The alcohol curfew will be eliminated beginning Friday, which will allow restaurants and bars to sell adult beverages any time they choose.

The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association said it "celebrates the governor's decision."

Gov. Roy Cooper said capacity will be increased for a wide variety of businesses and other restrictions will be lifted beginning Friday.

Many bars have closed their doors permanently because of restrictions they faced during the pandemic. The return of a 2 a.m. last call is a blessing for the ones who have survived, the organization said.

"This is the day we have been waiting for for over a year," said NCBATA President Zack Medford. "Operating any business at drastically limited capacity and hours is an immense task-- even more so when your business was forced closed for over 11 months. We are so excited to see a return to normalcy. Bars are still unfairly facing stricter limitations than restaurant bars, hotel bars and strip club bars, but being able to serve until 2 a.m. is a game-changer.

READ MORE: UNC Health experts encourage vaccinations as COVID variants emerge

"We are thankful for the never-ending efforts of NCBATA member bars and allies," he added. "Without their support, we could never be in the position to make this announcement. Now let's continue to get North Carolina vaccinated and get bars back to 100 percent capacity. After such a devastating 12 months, we need more help than ever to make sure these small businesses can make up at least some of their lost ground."

Sean Umstead, co-owner of Kingfisher Bar, has been operating at 30% and plans to stay that way but now feels like he is finally in control of what he wants to do.

"We were never the late night bar but those restrictions are the ones that most directly impact our ability to employ, turn a profit, find other moments to make revenue," said Umstead. "I think every night will be a little different but it's great to have people in here"

Marcella Aguado, owner of Red Monkey, has been dealing with staff shortages and is not ready at the moment for the new hours. Her bar was closed for four months at the start of the pandemic and she hasn't been sure if she would open again.

"It's what we've all been waiting for we thought right? So yeah it's good news to hear but it comes at times where staffing is not readily available," said Aguado. "We're very uncomfortable with the situation. We've been uncomfortable for a year and now we're at a loss."

WATCH: Cooper makes announcement on reopenings

The alcohol curfew will be eliminated beginning Friday, which will allow restaurants and bars to sell adult beverages any time they choose.

Many business capacity limits will be affected -- with some businesses being allowed to reopen at 100 percent capacity.

Cooper said his next Executive Order begins Friday at 5 p.m. as he further eased restrictions across the state.

Retail stores, salons, museums and aquariums are a few of the businesses that will be allowed to resume full capacity. However, physical distancing measures should remain in place inside those establishments.

Cooper eases restrictions beginning Friday

"Masks and six-feet of social distancing will still be required," Cooper said.

Other businesses will be allowed to open at 75 or 50 percent of capacity.

READ MORE: Hang on to that COVID-19 vaccination card -- it's important

This includes restaurants, amusement parks, wineries, breweries and distilleries, recreation facilities such as bowling alleys, skating rinks and rock climbing centers, gyms and fitness studios, and pools.

"We are in a promising place. With North Carolina's COVID-19 key metrics improving and vaccinations increasing, we can responsibly use our dimmer switch approach to easing restrictions guided by science and data," NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Tuesday.

Fit4Life gym in ABC11 told ABC11 as a 24-hour center, it has not been meeting the current capacity limits. Even when the gym welcomes more people, it says it won't relax efforts to make people safe.

"From a responsibility standpoint, a gym management owner perspective...there's some things we have adopted that just make sense to keep moving forward...we're going to continue to use the spray bottles and towels because it helps," said general manager Scott Mathews.

North Carolina gyms can operate at 75% capacity on Friday, Gov. Cooper announced Tuesday.

Arenas and stadiums are going to be allowed to admit 50 percent of their capacity as are bars, movie theaters, gaming facilities, tobacco lounges and nightclubs.

SEE ALSO: Wake County middle, high school students soon to return to full-time in-person classes

Cooper stressed that physical-distancing regulations must remain in place at all North Carolina buildings, no matter what capacity category the building falls under.

WATCH: NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen details the latest COVID-19 metrics

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen details the latest COVID-19 metrics in North Carolina

Hope and hesitancy from Triangle customers as more restrictions life

Hours after Gov. Cooper's announcement, the majority of public opinion, ABC11's Joel Brown found, was doubt and hesitancy -- fear that the state may be moving too fast.

"You never really know what somebody's carrying," said Maya. "And you don't know if they're positive. And it takes a while to even know if you're positive. So, I wouldn't go, honestly."

As of Tuesday morning, according to the NCDHHS dashboard, over 1.4 million North Carolinians are now fully-vaccinated -- 14% of the state's population.

"We can ease restrictions because our trends are moving in the right direction. But we're not out of the woods yet," said Dr. Cohen at Tuesday's news conference.

For frontline workers like Monroe, she wants to see a higher number of vaccinations before things like in-person dining at restaurants, watching games at arenas and museum visits become routine again.

"Because some people are not taking the vaccine. And the coronavirus is still here. It's still here," Monroe said.

"Maybe with about 75% vaccinated and I'd feel a bit more comfortable going out with all those people being there," Jada added.

Bars, movie theaters and sports arenas able to open at 50% capacity; while restaurants, breweries and amusement parks can fill up to 75% capacity inside.

With his young daughter by his side, Mario Austin, insisted his family will remain close to home for the time being.

"From a business standpoint, I understand the need to open up," Austin said. "But from a safety standpoint, I'm not ready."

Cameron Paul, Lark Bodner, and Alyssa Marks were the most upbeat about the lifting of some restrictions. But all three were still urging caution.

"It's one of those things that it's nice to have available if you want to go out," said Paul. "But if things get bad again, then putting the restrictions on wouldn't be a big deal."

Bodner added, "I think as long as mask-wearing is still a priority... I like the idea of going back. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about it."

And Marks said, "I just don't want people to give an inch and take a mile with it. Don't get crazy with it!"

In their announcement, the governor and Dr. Cohen put Marks' sentiment another way Tuesday: keep doing the 3 W's; and when it's your turn, get the COVID vaccine.