N.C. businesses, bars, sporting events face fewer COVID-19 restrictions under new executive order

Gov. Cooper signs executive order to ‘ease but not lift’ restrictions, end modified Stay at Home order

Restaurants and bars await eased restrictions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina businesses, bars and sporting events are facing fewer COVID-19 restrictions under a new executive order Friday.

Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday he was signing an executive order that will “ease but not lift” restrictions related to COVID-19 across the state.

Cooper said Executive Order 195 was decided on “Given the significant and sustained improvement in our COVID-19 metrics.” The new order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26.

“The only restriction we will lift is the Modified Stay at Home order,” Cooper said. “That means no more curfew starting Friday, and more opportunities to gather, shop and attend events if done safely.”

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The major changes under this order are below:

  • The night-time public closure period for certain businesses and facilities is lifted. These establishments are no longer ordered to close to the public between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • The Modified Stay at Home Order for individuals is lifted. Individuals no longer must stay at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • Indoor areas of bars may reopen, subject to reduced capacity limits and other requirements.
  • The curfew on alcohol sales remains in place but is modified to take effect at 11 p.m. The sale and service of alcoholic beverages is prohibited for on-site consumption between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • Indoor areas of amusement parks may reopen, subject to reduced capacity limits and other requirements.
  • Capacity limitations on certain businesses are increased, as detailed below.
  • The mass gathering limit increases to 25 people indoors (and remains 50 people outdoors).

Executive Order 195 has two general categories of occupancy restrictions: 30 percent capacity and 50 percent capacity. Officials say that because indoor spaces have a higher risk for spread of COVID-19, those facilities in the 30 percent-occupancy category may not exceed 250 people per indoor room or indoor space.

The 30% Capacity Limit (which may not exceed 250-persons in indoor spaces) includes:

  • Bars
  • 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*
  • Venues*

Indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats may be exempt from the 250 person limit if they follow additional safety measures up to 15 percent capacity.

The 50% Capacity Limit includes:

  • Restaurants
  • Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries
  • Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities)
  • Pools
  • Museums and Aquariums
  • Retailers
  • Outdoor areas of Amusement Parks
  • Salons, Personal Care, Tattoo Parlors

Cooper said the mandatory mask mandate will not change, and that when it comes to easing certain restrictions, they are “depending on people to be responsible.”

“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.”

According to Cooper, under the new order many businesses and venues will be able to stay at or expand to 50 percent occupancy while still maintaining health and safety protocols.

Gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers, pools, outdoor amusement parks, retail establishments, restaurants, breweries and wineries may also open at 50 percent capacity while maintaining health and safety protocols.

Some businesses that were limited to operating outdoors at 30 percent 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 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. These businesses include bars and taverns, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters, indoor sports arenas and others.

On-site alcohol sales will have to end at 11 p.m.

N.C.'s modified Stay at Home order to be lifted

An exception for larger indoor arenas with a capacity of more than 5,000 people will allow up to 15% capacity “if more safety protocols are followed,” Cooper said, adding that most college and professional indoor sports, such as basketball or hockey, can have fans at 15 percent capacity with certain protocols.

Mass gathering limits will be increased to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

Bars and taverns will be allowed to open indoors for the first time for nearly a year. Capacity indoors will be limited to 30 percent, Cooper said, “and officials will enforce this limit.” Like restaurants and other venues, alcohol sales must stop at 11 pm.

The news comes a day after the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association asked state leaders to loosen restrictions.

During the state’s modified Stay at Home order, Cooper ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., and on-site alcohol consumption sales were to end at 9 p.m.

Cooper did, however, permit to-go and delivery sales for mixed alcohol through March 31.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association applauded Cooper’s new order.

It released this statement:

“North Carolinians, you can drink inside a private bar for the first time in nearly a year.

“Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that state bars and taverns can reopen Friday, Feb. 26, at 30 percent capacity. And they can serve until 11 p.m. The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association applauds his decision and is confident that as COVID numbers rapidly improve further, the remaining restrictions will be reduced and ultimately removed.

“While this decision has come too late for many bars to ever reopen, the survivors are more than ready to welcome guests back into their barrooms.

“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.”

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