By Gianna Holiday
With North Carolina’s numbers trending to show improvement and vaccine distribution increasing, Governor Roy Cooper has allowed the state to ease some of its COVID-19 restrictions.
Executive Order No. 195 took effect Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. and will expire March 26 at 5 p.m.
Cooper’s Executive Order lifts the Modified Stay at Home Order requiring people to stay at home and businesses to close to the public between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 10 to 25. However, 50 is still the limit for outdoors.
“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious. People are losing their loved ones each day,” said Governor Cooper. “We must keep up our guard. Many of us are weary, but we cannot let the weariness win. Now is the time to put our strength and resilience to work so that we can continue to turn the corner and get through this.”
Many businesses, venues and arenas will increase their occupancy both indoors and outdoors as a result of the new Executive Order.
The curfew on the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption will be pushed from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Some businesses, including bars, will now be open indoors as they adhere to new occupancy restrictions.
TApp Room GM, Matt Manley, said, “We expect to see a decent increase in business, especially in a college town where people are looking to drink and eat dinner past 9 o’clock,” he said. “Our business has been very steady during the hours we’ve observed during December-February, but having 14 hours extra a week to serve our customers can only help.”
With hospitalizations and positive cases of COVID-19 trending downward, Cooper has given bars the ability to stay open later and has also dissolved the nighttime curfew. They have been trending downward for over a month following the spikes in cases related to the holidays.
Executive Order No. 195 has two categories of occupancy restrictions: 30 percent capacity and 50 percent capacity.
Because indoor spaces have a higher risk of spread for COVID-19, indoor facilities in the 30 percent occupancy category may not exceed 250 people per indoor space.
The 30 percent capacity limit rule applies to bars, conference spaces, lounges and clubs, movie theaters, amusement parks, sports arenas, and venues.
“When we reopened last May, we employed a full time “COVID Bouncer”, a fun name for a very serious position,” Manley said. “They are in charge of regular cleaning, and enforcing good distancing and masking. When we went to 9 o’clock closing, 9 months into the pandemic, we moved that position to a more as-needed high-volume-day role.”
Going back to 11 p.m and seeing more people with more time to consume alcohol, TApp Room will be reinstating their “COVID bouncer” as an every night employee.
The 50 percent capacity limit, however, applies to restaurants, breweries, pools, gyms, salons and museums.
Indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats may be excepted from the 250 person limit if they follow additional safety measures up to 15 percent capacity.
Safety protocols such as masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing will continue to be important as people adjust to the new order, health officials said.
“Keep wearing a mask, waiting 6 feet apart, and washing your hands. We’ve seen in the past how fragile progress can be, so we need to keep protecting each other while we get everyone a spot to get their shot,” said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D.