Gov. Roy Cooper lifts statewide curfew, eases restaurant and sport games restrictions

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Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Gov. Roy Cooper dons a face mask at a press briefing.

Emily Broyles, Editor-in-Chief

North Carolinians can expect fewer COVID-19 restrictions and a lifted 10 p.m. curfew starting this Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced this afternoon in a press conference.

Graphic by Xanayra Marin-Lopez

Cooper is lifting the stay-at-home order Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. as cases in the state have “declined and stabilized” after high case counts in January. Almost more than half of North Carolinians 65 and older have been vaccinated, despite the U.S. reaching 500,000 deaths this week due to the coronavirus.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,346 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 1,530 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. The state has reported 849,630 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic

According to the new Executive Order 195, bars, taverns and restaurants can serve alcohol until 11 p.m.  Bars and taverns can open up to 30% capacity, while restaurants, breweries and wineries can open at 50%. Indoor amusement parks, movie theaters and indoor sports arenas can also open at 30% capacity.

Under the new order, indoor sports venues that seat 5,000 or more people can open at 15% capacity if they follow health and safety guidelines. Indoor venues that can accommodate fewer than 5,000 people may only host 250. Most outdoor venues will now be able to open at 30%. Specific capacity limits depend on venue size and space.

For example, the Spectrum Center will now be able to host about 15% of its 20,200 capacity at 3,030 people for Charlotte Hornets games. Technically, Kidd Brewer Stadium, which can seat 30,000 people, could allow 4,500 people in the stadium, though there won’t be any football games anytime soon.

“We’re depending on people to be responsible. The mask mandate will not change,” Cooper said. “As more people gather together, it will be more important than ever to social distance.”

Educators were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine today, as providers continue to vaccinate the state in Group 1 and Group 2, consisting of those 65 and older and frontline health workers. Cooper said children returning to classrooms is “critical for their education and overall health.”

“School districts across the state know this, and within the next few weeks, schools serving 96% of our public school students will offer in-person instruction,” Cooper said.

Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said that even with restrictions easing and vaccines being distributed, the state needs “to keep our guard up.”

Cohen said with more than half North Carolina counties labeled in critical community spread and the uncertainty of COVID-19, people still need to wear face coverings and wash their hands

“We still have more work to do,” Cohen said.

Silas Albright contributed reporting to this story.