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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Cooper: NC To Lift Most COVID Restrictions By June

NC Gov. Roy Cooper removes his face mask before speaking at a Dec. 8 press conference.
NC Department of Public Safety
NC Gov. Roy Cooper removes his face mask before speaking at a Dec. 8 press conference.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says he plans to lift most of the state’s major COVID-19 safety restrictions by June 1.

In a news conference Wednesday, Cooper announced he will issue an executive order next week outlining a path forward. Unless infection trends worsen, he said he anticipates lifting restrictions on social distancing, capacity and mass gatherings.

A face mask mandate would remain in place.

Cooper said COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be administered to the adult population in the state, even as case numbers have ticked up in recent weeks. On Wednesday, 7% of coronavirus tests reported were positive, a rate that state health officials said they would like at 5% or below.

“Each shot in an arm is a step closer to putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror,” Cooper said Wednesday. “North Carolinians have shown up for each other throughout this entire pandemic and we need to keep up that commitment by getting our vaccines.”

Further restrictions, including the statewide mask mandate, could be halted once two-thirds of North Carolina have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Cooper said he thinks it will be hard to reach the two-thirds threshold by the end of May and anticipates the target being reached shortly thereafter.

As of Wednesday, roughly 36% of adults in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including more than two-thirds of residents 65 and up — considered to be at the highest risk of serious COVID-19 complications.

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 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. Mass gatherings are limited at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says even after restrictions are lifted, safety guidelines will likely remain in place for large indoor venues, and settings involving children, such as camps and summer schools.

She says current coronavirus trends are largely stable, though hospitalizations have inched up, while testing has dipped in recent days.

More than 12,400 North Carolina residents have died from COVID-19 complications, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. As of Wednesday morning, there were 1,168 patients with the virus hospitalized in the state. More than 950,000 infections have been confirmed by laboratory testing here since the first North Carolina case was diagnosed in March 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.
Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal