Citing the “significant and sustained improvements” of N.C. COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a news conference Wednesday he’d lift the statewide modified stay-at-home …
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This story was updated March 2 with additional updates added to the print edition of this story.
Citing the “significant and sustained improvements” of N.C. COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a news conference last Wednesday he’d lift the statewide modified stay-at-home 10 p.m. curfew order and ease several other restrictions, effective 5 p.m. last Friday.
Those restrictions include the expansion for many businesses to operate at 50% capacity, the opening of bars and taverns and increased mass gathering limits from 10 to 25 indoors. The limit remains at 50 people for outdoor gatherings.
“Easing these restrictions will only work if we keep protecting ourselves and others from this deadly virus,” Cooper said. “The order and our own common sense say that health and safety protocols must remain in place."
At a press conference this Tuesday, Cooper announced that frontline essential workers would be eligible for vaccinations beginning Wednesday, March 3. This group includes first responders and emergency responders, grocery store workers, manufacturing personnel, government workers and clergy. He’d previously said these essential workers would be eligible March 10, when he said school staff would be eligible Feb. 24. On Tuesday, Cooper said Group 4 vaccinations would be moved up as well to March 24 — for people who have a medical condition that puts them at a higher risk or who live in “certain congregate settings.”
The expedited timeline follows an expected increase in state vaccine supply, Cooper said, as well as the approval of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine.
“Our essential frontline workers have remained on the job throughout this pandemic and I am grateful for their work,” he said Tuesday.
At last week's press conference, Cooper said the mask mandate would remain in place, but many businesses are now able to open at 50% capacity, including gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers, pools, outdoor amusement parks, restaurants, breweries and wineries and more. The time for ending on-site service of alcohol will be moved to 11 p.m — that time was previously 9 p.m.
Some businesses limited to operating outdoors at 30% capacity will stay at that capacity, the order said, but they will no longer have a 100-person cap. Removing the 100-person cap will allow higher attendance in places such as sports fields and venues, stadiums, outdoor bars, outdoor amusement parks and more. Bars and taverns will open at 30%, the first indoor opening since the beginning of the pandemic. All indoor facilities in the 30%-occupancy categoy now have a 250-person cap.
Cooper said an exception would be made for indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats if they follow additional safety measures up to 15% capacity.
“There’s been a positive effect, and I think people deserve a pat on the back,” Cooper said in response to a media question about compliance with state protocol and restrictions.
The executive order is set to expire at 5 p.m. on March 26 unless the governor acts to extend it.
Cooper also spoke about schools at last week's conference, highlighting that Wednesday was the first day state educators were eligible to get vaccinated. He spoke about the return to in-person K-12 instruction, citing his Feb. 2 recommendation that in-person learning can happen safely when state protocol is followed. Over the next few weeks, 96% of the state’s public schools will offer some form of in-person instruction, he said.
He also addressed Senate Bill 37, passed by the General Assembly last week, which requires school systems to offer Plan A to special needs students and Plan A or Plan B to all other students. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto the bill; it will become law without his signature if he does nothing by then.
At Wednesday’s press conference, he said he’s told legislators he’d sign a bill like Senate Bill 37 if they “fixed it” to require schools to follow DHHS guidance and preserve emergency authority for state and local officials.
“I’ll be glad to sign a bill if they send me one like that,” he said.
As vaccine distribution continues and metrics improve, Cooper said the state is still encouraging employers to offer remote working whenever possible. Citing the continued short supply of vaccines and new COVID-19 variants, he encouraged North Carolinians to “keep doing the things we know work” — practicing social distancing, washing of hands and wearing masks.
“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious,” Cooper said last week. “People are losing their loved ones each day. 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 we can continue to turn the corner.”