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

North Carolina Ends Outdoor Mask Requirement Friday

N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is seen at a news conference in 2020. Today, he says the state will partially ease its mask mandate starting Friday, April 30.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the state will “cautiously ease” some COVID-19 safety restrictions on Friday, including a requirement that people wear face masks outdoors. They’ll still be required in most indoor public settings.

“We hope to go even further when we get at least two-thirds of adults vaccinated with at least one dose,” Cooper said Wednesday. “Once we get there and if our trends are stable, we plan to lift the mask mandate completely.”

The state will also raise a mass gathering cap on people inside to 100 per crowd and 200 outside. Currently, mass gatherings are limited at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. There were already exemptions to wearing masks outside, including for people who were exercising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made similar recommendations Tuesday.

Though Cooper cautioned that “we are not seeing the decline in metrics we would like to see,” he said North Carolina is on track to fully lift capacity limits and social distancing restrictions by June 1.

As of Wednesday, there have been roughly 965,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in the state and 12,619 deaths blamed on COVID-19, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The department reports that about 40% of adult residents have been fully vaccinated and 49% have had at least one dose.

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 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.

No changes in those capacity requirements were announced Wednesday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen did not say when she expects North Carolina to hit the two-thirds vaccinated threshold.

“When will that happen, though, is up to North Carolinians and how quickly people get vaccinated,” Cohen said.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed recently, with supply outpacing demand in parts of the state. On the week of April 5, providers administered more than 246,000 first doses. Fewer than 85,000 people got first doses last week, which is the lowest weekly count since the end of December 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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.