Kevin Jackson, a manager at Haywood Common, took a food order from Allen and Diane Sekelsky of Warrenton, VA on November 17, 2020. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press.

by Anne Blythe, North Carolina Health News

Restaurants, bars, barbershops, museums, retail stores and more could see a welcomed pickup in activity in the coming weeks, perhaps pushing some businesses closer to the kind of busyness they experienced before everything went haywire last spring as the novel coronavirus outbreak evolved into a global pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he was easing statewide restrictions that have kept many places throughout North Carolina operating at a limited capacity for much of the past year as COVID-19 menaced the healthy and frail.

As more people become fully vaccinated against the once-novel coronavirus and the state’s trends and metrics prompt more optimism about getting to the other side of the pandemic, Cooper has increased capacity limits and given the OK for more people to gather indoors and outdoors.

Sports teams will have larger crowds in the stands. Amusement parks can fully open. Restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries no longer have to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.

The mask mandate remains in effect, as do social distancing requirements. A recently published Meredith Poll that touched base with 699 registered voters in North Carolina from March 12 to March 15 found that 64.2 percent were opposed to eliminating the mask mandate.

The presence of more contagious COVID-19 variants first detected in other parts of the world and the country trouble public health officials who’ve warned of potential case surges if people become too lax with safety measures.

“These are significant changes but they can be done safely,” Cooper said.

“We’ve said all along that the science and the data would be our guide in this dimmer switch approach, and they show we can do this,” he continued. “North Carolina has done the work to slow the spread of this virus and get people vaccinated, and I’m grateful for the efforts of people across the state.”

What’s changing?

Cooper’s latest executive order, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and lasts until 5 p.m. April 30, is not a one-size-fits-all for businesses, entertainment venues and sports arenas across the state.

The order allows 100 percent occupancy with mask requirements and six feet of social distancing at:

  • Aquariums;
  • Barbershops;
  • Museums;
  • Retail businesses;
  • Salons, other personal care and grooming businesses; and
  • Tattoo parlors.

The following places can open at 75 percent capacity indoors and 100 percent capacity outdoors with masks and six feet of social distancing:

  • Amusement parks;
  • Restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries;
  • Bowling alleys, skating rinks, rock-climbing walls and other similar recreation venues;
  • Gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios; and
  • Swimming pools.

These places can operate at 50 percent capacity indoors and outdoors with masks and six-foot social distancing measures:

  • Bars;
  • Meeting, reception and conference venues;
  • Lounges and nightclubs; and
  • Professional, collegiate, high school and amateur sports arenas and fields.

Movie theaters and gaming facilities can operate at 50 percent capacity indoors and up to 75 percent outdoors with mask and social distancing requirements.

The indoor crowd limit will be no more than 50 people. Up to 100 people can gather together outdoors.

“We are in a promising place,” Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters. “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.”

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