During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper announced significant rollbacks of restrictions on businesses and other venues, as the rates of COVID19 hospitalizations, deaths and positive cases continue to drop and stabilize across the state.
“After alarmingly high numbers throughout the winter holidays, North Carolina’s trends have declined and stabilized,” Cooper said. “Hospitalizations have dropped to their lowest point since before Thanksgiving. The percent of tests returning positive continues to decline. This is encouraging.”
The first major change in Gov. Cooper’s announcement is that the state will officially lift the modified Stay-At-Home closing non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants, and retail, at 10 p.m. nightly. That order, signed in the wake of the Thanksgiving and Christmas surge, also created a 9 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.
Though non-essential businesses can stay open until regular times, alcohol sales across the state will still be subject to a curfew, but this time two hours later at 11 p.m.
The changes will go into effect Friday, February 26, and will replace the orders set to expire the same day.
Additional changes are also extended to bars and establishments where food sales make up less than 30 percent of revenues, which will be the first time since March 2020 that such establishments can open their doors. These businesses will be allowed to operate at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people.
Gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers, pools, outdoor amusement parks, retail establishments, restaurants, breweries, and wineries may either now open or remain open at 50% capacity with health and safety protocols.
The state’s mask mandate does stay in effect.
While specific businesses that were allowed to operate at 30 percent will still be able to do so.. the 100 person cap will be lifted, allowing more people to frequent the businesses at a time. That includes sports fields and venues, stadiums, outdoor bars, outdoor amusement parks, and other outdoor businesses. The changes also call for indoor businesses such as bars and taverns, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters, indoor sports arenas and others to open at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC Secretary of Health and Human Services, praised North Carolinians’ efforts to slow the spread and keep up with “The Three Ws,” which she credited for empowering the governor to begin to ease restrictions.