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Gov. Cooper significantly relaxes Covid-19 restrictions, mask mandate remains in place


Governor Roy Cooper continues to urge caution -- and will still require masks and social distancing. But, as WHQR’s Ben Schachtman reports, key Covid-19 restrictions will be further relaxed starting this Friday.    

Dr. Mandy Cohen says the state’s Department of Health and Human Services sees the four major metrics improving or leveling off (you can find graphics illustrating those metrics in the slideshow above).

That includes the number of new confirmed Covid-19 cases and people visiting the hospital with Covid-like symptoms, both of which are trending down. The percentage of positive tests has recently averaged below the 5-percent mark, which has long been a goal for the state. The state has also seen 32 percent of residents 18 or older receive at least the first round of vaccine shots.

According to Cohen, “While we’ll continue to need to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance. Lower risk settings can open further, while higher risk settings really must maintain caution.”

Following this logic, Cooper’s executive order will allow a wide range of places to open for close-to-maxium capacity; however, since 6-foot social distancing will still be required, not every business will be able to take advantage of these relaxed restrictions.

Under the new order, museums, aquariums, retail shops, salons and other businesses will be able to open to 100% indoor and outdoor capacity. Restaurants, breweries, gyms, pools, and other recreational establishments can open 100% outdoors and 75% indoors. Bars, entertainment venues, and sports facility will be allowed up to 50% indoor and outdoor capacity -- and the on-site alcohol curfew is now fully lifted.

The order also increases the public gathering limit to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

Cooper continued to urge caution and safety, despite the relaxed regulations. 

“But I emphasize this, this pandemic is not over yet. We're only able to keep this virus in check while we ease restrictions. If people act responsibly, and follow safety protocols, that means continuing to wear a mask and social distancing. We want to strengthen our economy while keeping people safe. And it's on all of us to make that happen. The last thing we want is to backslide.”

The new order takes effect Friday, March 26, at 5 p.m.


Read Executive Order No. 204.




Official release on EO204 from the Governor's Office:


As North Carolina’s trends continue to show improvement and vaccine distribution increases with 31.7% of North Carolinians over 18 having received at least one dose of vaccine, Governor Roy Cooper announced today that the state will continue to ease some COVID-19 restrictions. Executive Order No. 204 will take effect March 26 at 5 pm is set to expire April 30 at 5 pm. The state’s general mask mandate remains in effect.

“Our fast and fair vaccine distribution and our sustained progress with the COVID-19 metrics tell us we can move forward with easing restrictions if we do it safely,” said Governor Cooper.

“We are in a promising place. 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,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. 

Executive Order No. 204 has three general categories of occupancy restrictions: up to 100 percent capacity, 75 percent capacity, and 50 percent capacity. All businesses must continue to maintain the 6 feet of distance requirement between patrons and implement other safety protocols as they expand their capacity. 

Executive Order No. 204 will also increase mass gathering limits. The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 25 to 50 and the number of people who may gather outdoors will increase from 50 to 100. This Order also fully lifts the restriction on the late-night sale and service of alcoholic beverages on bars, restaurants, and other establishments.

Indoors and Outdoors up to 100% Capacity, Subject to Masks and 6 ft. Social Distancing 

  • Museums and Aquariums
  • Retail Businesses
  • Salons, personal care and grooming businesses, tattoo parlors

Indoors up to 75% and Outdoors up to 100% Capacity, Subject to Masks and 6 ft. Social Distancing 

  • Restaurants 
  • Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries
  • Recreation (e.g., bowling, skating, rock climbing)
  • Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, yoga studios, fitness centers)
  • Pools
  • Amusement Parks

Indoors and Outdoors up to 50% Capacity, Subject to Masks and 6 ft. Social Distancing 

  • Bars
  • Movie Theaters*
  • Gaming Facilities*
  • Meeting, Reception, and Conference Spaces
  • Lounges (including tobacco) and Night Clubs
  • Auditoriums, Arenas, and other venues for live performances
  • Sports Arenas and Fields (includes professional, collegiate, and amateur

*Movie theaters and gaming facilities may operate at up to 75% capacity outdoors.
Activities and settings are lower risk when they involve interacting with fewer people, being outside, keeping masks on the entire time, keeping interactions with people short (under 15 minutes), staying physically distant, and avoiding singing, yelling, and cheering, according to public health officials.

North Carolina is continuing to see fast and fair vaccine distribution. To date, the state has administered over 4.1 million doses. Over 31.7 percent of people 18 and up have received at least one dose, and 18.8 percent are fully vaccinated. Vaccine equity efforts remain a priority, with 18 percent of first doses administered to Black North Carolinians and 8 percent to members of the LatinX community last week. 

DHHS also released updates to the K-12 guidance. Schools should return to in-person instruction to the fullest extent possible while following all public health protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. This update aligns with Session Law 2021-4, which Governor Cooper and bipartisan legislative leadership worked on together. Plan A has already been widely adopted across the state as districts, educators and support staff have worked hard to get students back in the classroom. The updated Toolkit no longer requires schools to do daily temperature checks and symptom screenings. Safety protocols such as masks and cleaning of high traffic areas are still required. Schools are also highly encouraged to conduct free screening testing as recommended by the CDC. (Read the updated Toolkit)

State health officials are continuing to monitor the presence of COVID-19 and its more contagious variants in North Carolina, which is why it is important to continue to have a mask mandate and continue to practice safety precautions, including the Three Ws—wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart, and wash hands often.