Raleigh, North Carolina More customers will be allowed into restaurants, bars, retail stores, gyms and other businesses as North Carolina once again eases its restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order with the latest changes, which also includes the end of the 11 p.m. curfew on the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises, takes effect at 5 p.m. Friday.
Cooper said the relaxed rules are possible because North Carolina’s trend lines with the virus continue to improve.
The state has been at or below the 5 percent target for positive coronavirus tests for much of the past two weeks, although the rate was 6.3 percent on Tuesday. The daily average of new infections remains below 2000, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remains below 1000.
In addition, more and more people are vaccinated against the virus. Nearly 19 percent of North Carolina adults are fully immunized, while another 13 percent have received the first injection of a two-dose regimen.
“I am pleased that we are standing strong and that our numbers are stable,” Cooper said during a news conference.
Under the new executive order, the following capacity limits have changed:
- Retail stores, hair salons, hair salons, museums, and aquariums can resume operations at 100 percent capacity. All have been limited to 50 percent of their capacity previously.
- Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, swimming pools, and amusement parks can operate at 75 percent of their capacity indoors and 100 percent outdoors. All have been limited to 50 percent of their capacity.
- Bars, conference centers and arenas can operate at 50 percent capacity both indoors and outdoors. The bars were allowed to reopen for indoor patrons just a month ago, and they and the entertainment stadiums have been limited to 30 percent capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.
Plus, Cooper’s new order doubles the limits for large gatherings, to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. The indoor meeting limit had been 10 people until a month ago.
In all cases, Cooper said, companies will need to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between customers, which means that some companies may not be able to reach the new capacity limits.
“These are significant changes, but they can be done safely,” Cooper said. “But I emphasize this: this pandemic is not over yet. We can only keep this virus under control while easing restrictions if people act responsibly and follow safety protocols.”
To that end, the state-level mask mandate will remain in place under the new order.
“We are excited to attract more people, [but] for us, the guiding factor will continue to be distancing, “said Greg Hatem, owner of several restaurants in downtown Raleigh.” The goal is to keep everyone safe. We don’t want to serve chicken skewers with a side of COVID. “
Parker Kennedy, owner of Cafe Luna in downtown Raleigh, reconfigured one of his dining rooms under the new guidelines and said it could seat 30 people inside.
“Everything is 6 feet apart,” Kennedy said. “The situation continues to improve every day.”
Hatem said the changes will be rolled out to more customers, noting that it is looking for more employees to help serve them. Its staff is now at about 60 percent of what it was before the pandemic.
The Carolina Hurricanes immediately made more tickets available for Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, and tickets for upcoming games at PNC Arena in Raleigh will go on sale next week.
“We have seen, heard and felt the impact our Caniacs have had since we reopened our doors earlier this month. We remain interested in increasing capacity and will do so safely,” Hurricanes President and CEO tweeted, Don Waddell.
But Heather Strickland, executive director of the Raleigh Little Theater, said there is still a lot to do to ensure spectator safety before selling more tickets.
“Part of this is just making sure we have enough staff to help make sure people stay masked and estranged, “said Strickland.” One thousand people [in the outdoor amphitheater] sounds like a crowd. That’s just, the risk goes until. The larger the crowd, the greater the risk of spreading COVID, and I don’t want to, I absolutely don’t want to be a place where that potential is high risk. “
Zack Medford, president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, tempered his enthusiasm for the capacity limit increase and the end of the alcohol sales curfew at 11 p.m. with continued criticism about how state regulations they have been tougher on bars during the pandemic.
“Operating any business with drastically limited capacity and hours is an immense task, even more so when your business was forced to close for more than 11 months. We are very excited to see a return to normalcy,” Medford said in a statement. . “Bars still unfairly face tighter limitations than restaurant bars, hotel bars and strip club bars, but being able to serve until 2 am is a game changer.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said bars remain a higher risk site for transmission of the virus, which is why the limits have been stricter than for restaurants. People don’t wear masks for longer periods and become loud, boisterous and less inhibited while drinking, he said.
Darren Bridger, co-owner of London Bridge Pub in downtown Raleigh, said his staff is ready to welcome more customers and keep serving drinks until 2 a.m.
“It will help, of course, but nothing will make up for the loss of revenue in the last year,” Bridger said, noting that the state delayed the last call from 9 pm to 11 pm last month and increased business by 50 percent.
“If we can do that jump again, going at 2am, then we’d be pretty comfortable leaving everything behind and using this as our starting point,” he said. “There are many people who say they are ready for it to end [and] let’s move on, but I think it’s prudent to continue with 50 percent capacity at least until we know what the 2am impact is.