Great Work, NC: Cooper Is Lifting A Bunch of COVID-19 Restrictions

Bartender Alex Wright sanitizes a table before opening Barbès, a popular neighborhood music venue and bar converted to a bottle shop and mostly-outdoor bar during the the coronavirus pandemic in New York in December. (Image via AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

By Sarah Ovaska

March 23, 2021

More people will be allowed in North Carolina museums, sports venues, restaurants and more with Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19 cases are continuing to go down, a sign that the virus is not spreading as rapidly as it was just two months ago.

Fewer than 1,000 North Carolinians are in NC hospital beds with serious complications from the dangerous virus, down from a peak of 3,992 in mid-January.

And the number of vaccinated North Carolinians is going up. Nearly one in every three NC adults was at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

As a reward of sorts, Gov. Roy Cooper announced he would be lifting some of the restrictions he ordered earlier in the pandemic to try and keep the disease at bay.

But, he warned, the mask mandate is still in effect and masks should be used. People should also still maintain physical distances of 6 feet in public settings.

“We have to stay strong to the very end,” Cooper said.  

That may even be more important now, with more people likely to be interacting and more people venturing out into warmer weather following their vaccinations. 

“We may need to be even more careful,” Cooper said.

Effective Friday at 5 p.m. Cooper will loosen occupancy limits in many places. That includes normal occupancy levels in museums, retail stores, aquariums and hair salons. Other places, including restaurants, conference centers, breweries, bars, sports venues and live music venues, can also welcome more people into their establishments at 50 to 75% their normal occupancy. (Scroll down for more details.) 

Gone now as well is the statewide 11 p.m. limit on alcohol sales. So, in many places, you’ll be able to have a beer (preferably outdoors) into the early morning hours. Or at least until 2 a.m., when North Carolina calls it quits on drinking.

Lots of Shots in NC Arms 

Vaccination efforts around the state show that 32% of all North Carolina adults are partially vaccinated, and 19% are fully vaccinated, Cohen said.

Right now, those in Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4 are eligible for the vaccine.

Some counties including Craven, Greene and Rockingham counties have opened vaccinations up to all five groups, a sign that North Carolina is close to being able to offer vaccines to anyone who wants them.

(All three vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only approved for those over 16, though some clinical trials for children are ongoing).

Right now, Cooper expects any North Carolina adult should be able to get vaccines if they want one by May.

Then there will be a big push to reach people that might be hesitant about taking the vaccine. The state will also focus on North Carolinians who haven’t received their shot because of mobility, transportation or other challenges.

“Our demand still exceeds the supply that we have,” Cooper said. “But at some point, we will reach a time when we have more supply than demand.”

If you need a vaccine, or have questions, you can go to to see what’s being offered in your area or call NC DHHS’ COVID-19 Hotline at 888-675-4567.

New Occupancy Limits Starting Friday: 

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

Indoors and Outdoors, up to 50% Capacity, Subjects to Masks and 6 Ft. Social Distancing

  • Bars
  • Movie theaters (75% outdoors)
  • Gaming facilities (75% outdoors)
  • Meeting, reception and conference spaces
  • Lounges (including tobacco) and night clubs
  • Auditoriums, arenas and other live performance venues
  • Sports arenas and fields (includes pro and amateur)


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