North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the state will “cautiously ease” some COVID-19 safety restrictions on Friday, including a requirement that people wear face masks outdoors. They’ll still be required in most indoor public settings.
“We hope to go even further when we get at least two-thirds of adults vaccinated with at least one dose,” Cooper said Wednesday. “Once we get there and if our trends are stable, we plan to lift the mask mandate completely.”
The state will also raise a mass gathering cap on people inside to 100 per crowd and 200 outside. Currently, mass gatherings are limited at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. There were already exemptions to wearing masks outside, including for people who were exercising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made similar recommendations Tuesday.
Though Cooper cautioned that “we are not seeing the decline in metrics we would like to see,” he said North Carolina is on track to fully lift capacity limits and social distancing restrictions by June 1.
As of Wednesday, there have been roughly 965,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in the state and 12,619 deaths blamed on COVID-19, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The department reports that about 40% of adult residents have been fully vaccinated and 49% have had at least one dose.
Even though we're continuing our dimmer switch approach of easing restrictions, we need to stay vigilant. In addition to indoor masks, many of our strong safety requirements remain in place for public places, including social distancing and capacity limits, which are important.
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) April 28, 2021
Cooper’s administration has been gradually easing restrictions over the last several months. At their height last spring, restaurants were primarily limited to takeout, bars were closed, essentially all mass gatherings were banned, schools had to go remote and stay-at-home orders were in place.
Currently, capacity at restaurants, gyms and amusement parks is limited to 75% indoors; bars, movie theaters, sports venues and meeting spaces are limited to 50% capacity indoors. Museums, retail businesses and salons have been permitted to operate at 100% capacity since March 26.
No changes in those capacity requirements were announced Wednesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen did not say when she expects North Carolina to hit the two-thirds vaccinated threshold.
“When will that happen, though, is up to North Carolinians and how quickly people get vaccinated,” Cohen said.
The pace of vaccinations has slowed recently, with supply outpacing demand in parts of the state. On the week of April 5, providers administered more than 246,000 first doses. Fewer than 85,000 people got first doses last week, which is the lowest weekly count since the end of December 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.