Public invited to participate in litter pickup effort Saturday in Fairmont
RALEIGH – With cases and other key metrics trending down in North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper announced on Wednesday that the state will ease collection and occupancy restrictions and end the statewide curfew starting at 10:00 p.m. Friday .
For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic governor allows bars and taverns to offer indoor service. His new Executive Order also increases the cut-off times for alcohol sales from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. by two hours, allowing these companies to work at 30% capacity up to 250 people. If they wear state health guidelines such as masks and distance themselves physically, nightclubs, conference rooms, indoor amusement parks, cinemas, and sports and entertainment venues can also operate at the same capacity.
“Easing these restrictions will only work if we continue to protect ourselves and others from this deadly pandemic,” Cooper said at an afternoon press conference.
Larger sports venues with space for more than 5,000 people can accommodate up to 15% of their fans, provided they adhere to additional security restrictions. The PNC Arena, home to the Carolina Hurricanes hockey games in Raleigh, and the Spectrum Center, home to the Charlotte Hornets basketball team, could hold about 3,000 people.
Shortly after the news, the Hurricanes announced that the team would be adding fans to their March 4th game against the Detroit Red Wings.
“The Caniacs are the backbone of our franchise and we look forward to welcoming them back to the PNC Arena,” said a statement from Don Waddell, the team’s president and general manager.
Cooper’s policy goes into effect on Friday at 5:00 p.m. and expires simultaneously on March 26th. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, bowling alleys, swimming pools, museums, outdoor amusement park areas, hair salons and retailers receive a 50% capacity limit.
The governor’s policy also allows more people to congregate, increasing the indoor gathering limit from 10 to 25. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people.
For some companies, Cooper’s announcement is too late. The pandemic and Cooper’s policies caused many bars to shut down, said Zack Medford, president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association. Still, he praised Cooper’s decision and called it a “big, hard-fought win”.
“We look forward to building on this success with the governor’s office and helping our bar and tavernas get back on their feet after such a devastating year,” Medford said in a statement.
For other people, the easing of restrictions didn’t go far enough. Senate Republicans tabled a bill on Wednesday that would allow high schools to allow spectators to attend outdoor sporting events at 40% of the capacity of a stadium.
Senator Todd Johnson, a Union County Republican and co-sponsor of the legislature, believes Cooper’s move is a good step, but said he will continue to push for a percentage higher than the 30% in the governor’s new order. The existing guide only allows 100 people to participate in high school games.
Meagen O’Connell, a parent of two high school athletes at Weddington High School in Union County, launched a petition to raise Cooper’s cap.
“We just want to watch our children,” O’Connell said at a press conference held by the Legislative Building in support of the law. “We only want to be there for those moments that we don’t get back.”
During the press conference, Cooper reiterated his opposition to any law to reopen the school as it is currently being written. The proposal put forward by the Republican legislature, which was backed by a handful of Democrats, would give the state’s 115 counties about two weeks to offer at least some personal tuition to all of its students.
The vast majority of school authorities have chosen to reopen, but some are still completely remote. Cooper has until late Saturday to sign or veto the bill before it automatically becomes law. Cooper “strongly encourages” the unopened districts to get children back into the classroom, but rejects the statewide mandate which he believes does not give school authorities the flexibility they need to respond to an emergency amid the pandemic.
Under pressure from teachers’ lawyers, Cooper allowed educators, childcare workers and school staff to get vaccinated on Wednesday. Other “key frontline workers,” including the governor and other elected officials, will be eligible on March 10th. It will likely take a while for many vaccine providers to release doses to teachers and other workers that have been eligible since mid-January when there is strong demand from residents aged 65 and over.
Associate press writer Gary D. Robertson reported from Raleigh.
Anderson is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program that lets journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.