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N.C. Senate Passes Bill to Allow Safe Outdoor Seating for Bars/Restaurants by 42-5 Margin

The North Carolina Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) to allow restaurants and bars to expand outdoor seating equal to 50 percent of total occupancy. The measure passed by a 42-5 margin.
Gov. Roy Cooper has not said whether he supports or opposes the measure, which would amend current policy from his executive orders.
Right now, Gov. Cooper permits restaurants to operate indoors or outdoors at 50 percent capacity, but prohibits bars from operating under the same rules.
Sen. Gunn’s bill would treat bars and restaurants the same, and allow them to operate outdoors at 50 percent of total capacity.
Sen. Gunn said, “My bill treats restaurants and bars the same, and it follows the lead of other jurisdictions by allowing safe outdoor seating options. This is a lifeline to a dying industry.”
Other States Are Embracing Outdoor Seating
Many cities and states across the country are promoting outdoor seating as a safe way to allow bars and restaurants to stay afloat.
In California, which has instituted a regional approach to reopening, several jurisdictions are changing their regulations to massively expand outdoor seating. San Jose, for example, recently announced “Al Fresco San Jose.”
Illinois also has a regional approach, and its Governor recently announced that outdoor dining at restaurants will be permitted “based on advice from public health officials, who said summer provided a ‘unique opportunity’ to reopen restaurants safely — at least to outdoor diners.”
In Northern Virginia, Arlington County just approved a process to provide restaurants with expanded outdoor seating space.
Examples from other states abound.
Science, Facts, Data
There is considerable evidence that the virus spreads more easily indoors compared to outdoors, which supports the public policies already embraced by other states. Here are a few examples:
  • study in Japan concluded, “The odds that a primary case transmitted COVID-19 in a closed environment was 18.7 times greater compared to an open-air environment.”
  • A Hong Kong study of 318 outbreaks concluded, “All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major SARS-CoV-2 infection risk.”
  • A professor at Boston University School of Public Health concluded, “We need creative solutions, and I think things like closing down streets and having some dispersed [seating] from restaurants is a nice creative solution.”
  • On restaurant dining, the New York Times recently advised, “Recent evidence suggests that the risk of infection may be lower outdoors. Alfresco dining has other advantages. Dr. Chapman pointed out that there may be more space outside to spread out, and that all-weather furniture may be easier to rearrange than a fixed booth in a dining room.”
Senator Gunn added, “Other states and cities are expanding outdoor seating options based on the science, facts, and data. This industry has taken the brunt of the shutdown, and this policy just makes sense. I hope Gov. Cooper will support it.”