Cooper: NC To Lift Most COVID Restrictions By June
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.
With increasing vaccinations and ongoing work to slow the spread, I anticipate we'll be able to lift all mandatory social distancing, capacity & mass gathering restrictions by June 1. I plan to issue an Executive Order next week outlining safety restrictions for the month of May.— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) April 21, 2021
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.