RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Gov. Roy Cooper’s new executive order loosening COVID-19 restrictions at businesses and entertainment venues goes into effect late on Friday afternoon.
Cooper signed the executive order earlier this week and it goes into effect at 5 p.m. today. One of the biggest impacts will be an increase in the maximum occupancy at some businesses.
“Strong safety protocols, including the mask mandate, will remain in place. It will be as important as ever to stay socially distant and use good judgment,” Cooper said Tuesday.
Museums, aquariums, retail businesses and shops, and barbers/salons/personal care shops can open at 100 percent capacity.
Restaurants, breweries and wineries, amusement parks, and gyms and pools can open at 75 percent capacity.
Bars, sports arena, and other live performance venues can open at 50 percent capacity.
Masks and 6 feet of social distancing will still be required for all of these establishments. Cooper said that means some of them may not be able to reach the maximum occupancy allowed by the order.
Effective Friday, the 11 p.m. curfew for on-site alcohol consumption will be lifted. Cooper is also continuing to allow authorized businesses to sell mixed alcoholic drinks to go.
The mass gathering limit, which covers other kinds of gatherings not otherwise laid out in the order, will be increased to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.
“These are significant changes, but they can be done safely. We have said all along that the science and data would be our guide in this dimmer switch approach, and they show we can do this,” Cooper said.
The order goes into effect on March 26 and lasts until April 30.
“This virus and its more contagious variants are still spreading, and we may even need to be more careful as we ease restrictions in that we will likely come into contact with more people when we leave our homes and go into public places,” Cooper said.
Dr. Mandy Cohen with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human and Services said 31.7 percent of North Carolinians over the age of 18 are partially vaccinated against the virus.
Cohen said 18.8 percent are fully vaccinated.
Gonza Salamanca, owner of Gonza Tacos y Tequila in the Triangle, said while he’s glad to see capacity go up, he thinks the vaccination rate will have the biggest impact on bringing customers back.
“That is what’s gonna make the difference – that people feel safe,” he said. “Increasing it from 50 to 75 percent, is that gonna give me 25 percent more customers? I don’t think so.”
Jason Ruth, who owns two locations of Tinyz Tavern in Wilmington, said he’s been frustrated to see bars like his treated differently from restaurants, breweries and wineries.
“We’re not corporations. We’re mom-and-pop shops. We’re small businesses. We provide jobs. We feel like we should have been able to operate the same way,” he said. “We want to be treated fairly. We want to be a partner in this. We know how to do it safely.”
He’s part of the North Carolina Bar Owners Association, which filed a lawsuit against Cooper over his COVID-19 executive orders.
Ruth said he and his business partner just opened their second location a few months before the pandemic began. Since then, they’ve had to take on debt to keep the businesses running. While they did receive help from state and federal government programs, Ruth said the money from those was slow to come at times and eventually ran out.
“We understand there is a COVID crisis, and we understand that this is a true pandemic. But, we wanted to be operating the same way that restaurants and other permittees across the state have been able to operate,” Ruth said. “Every time, with bated breath, we’re just dying for some kind of help.”
Cohen said the latest executive order categorizes different businesses based on risks they pose for the spread of COVID-19.
“When folks are together, not wearing their masks all the time, and particularly when they are indoors. We know that is what happens in a bar. Folks are gathering inside together and not wearing their masks all the time. So, we still see that as a higher-risk setting,” she said.