North Carolina will allow bars, cinemas and indoor sports arenas to open for the first time in nearly a year as Governor Roy Cooper eased coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday amid declining trends in cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19.
These indoor facilities will still have severe restrictions – bars and cinemas are only allowed to operate at 30% of their capacity and large sports facilities such as the Spectrum Center at 15% of their capacity – but the decree that goes into effect Force Friday at 5 p.m. marks the first of those easing restrictions in North Carolina during the pandemic.
âI think easing the restrictions, as long as people come back carefully, can help these businesses,â Cooper said at a press conference. âWe know a lot of them are struggling. It won’t bring them back completely. But we want to put health and safety first, and we believe this decision does that. “
Cooper also lifted the 10 p.m. curfew in effect on Dec. 8 and increased the mass assembly limits to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
Outdoor bars, venues and other businesses operating at 30% capacity will also no longer have a capacity limit of 100 people.
Cooper stressed that the mandatory face mask order is still in effect, however, and encouraged residents of the state to continue working remotely whenever possible.
âWhen it comes to loosening some restrictions, we depend on people to be responsible,â Cooper said.
Dr Mandy Cohen, head of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said that with the state’s improving coronavirus trends, now is “the right time to take this step forward. “.
“Our cases are down. Our percentage of positives has gone down. Our hospitalizations are down,” Cohen said.
But she warned residents should always take precautions like wearing a mask when not actively eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar. She also stressed that the restrictions could be reinstated if the trends worsen.
âThis is just a step,â Cohen said. “We will be monitoring our trends and if we see more viral spread in these areas, we will reassess as we go.”
A 50% capacity restriction remains for restaurants, breweries, retail stores, gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers and salons, swimming pools and outdoor amusement parks.
Alcohol service on site has been extended until 11 p.m.
As part of the state’s county alert system that classifies the community spread, 27 counties are now in the “red” zone, which means “critical” spread. That’s down from 61 counties two weeks ago. Forty counties, including Mecklenburg, are âorangeâ for substantial spread, and 33 counties are âyellowâ for significant spread.
The relaxed restrictions were good news for area bars, sports facilities and teams such as the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets immediately issued a statement expressing gratitude that they will be allowed to have approximately 3,000 fans in their 20,000-seat arena, under the order that expires on March 26.
The Hornets said they have improved the filtration and purification of the air in the Spectrum Center, and added, âWe have kept in touch with state and county officials, as well as the NBA, throughout. last year and prepare a plan that we believe will allow fans to safely return to the Spectrum Center in the near future. â
The Charlotte Knights issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the team were “very happy” with Cooper’s announcement. The team’s first home game of the 2021 season is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13. The governor’s announcement also paves the way for up to 28,000 fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race on May 30.
And the NHL Carolina Hurricanes immediately released a statement saying they would begin welcoming fans on March 4 in a game against the Detroit Red Wings.
And in the evening, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that from March 1 they would allow 500 spectators at outdoor sporting events – 300 for the home team and 200 for the visiting team. The current limit of 100 people at outdoor events will remain in place until the end of the week, CMS said.
Schools participating in the NCHSAA basketball playoffs will begin playing on Saturday, and CMS will release more information when more details are known.
North Carolina reported 3,346 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with a 6% positivity rate, while 1,530 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. The daily number of cases and hospitalizations has not been so low since mid-November, and the positivity rate has not been so low since the end of October.
âWe are slowing the spread and saving lives,â Cohen said. âAt the same time, we face a new challenge. These new variants of COVID-19 are a wild card. We know that these variants are here in our state and are more contagious.â
Variants from the UK and South Africa were found in COVID-19 test samples in North Carolina and were found to be up to 50% more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.
âWe will continue to let science and data guide our decisions,â Cooper said. “If we see that this kind of variant is causing problems, we’ll discuss it with health officials and scientists and do what we need to do.”
Read the entire decree below.