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

Last Call: Late-Night Ban On Food, Alcohol Sales Approved In Charlotte, Surrounding Towns

David Boraks
People line up to get into a South End restaurant and bar late June 12, before a mask mandate was in place statewide. Current restrictions require social distancing at restaurants.

Most restaurants that serve alcohol in Mecklenburg County will be prohibited from serving onsite food or booze after 11 p.m. under a new proclamation signed by the mayors of Charlotte, Matthews, Davidson, Mint Hill and Pineville.

Under the new restrictions, which go into effect Thursday, restaurants that serve food and alcohol "shall be closed to onsite consumption of food and beverages and no customers shall be present for the onsite consumption of food and beverages between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m."

Restaurants may still offer take-out and delivery options after 11 p.m., and restaurants that do not serve alcohol may continue operating as late as they prefer.

The new restrictions also ban patrons from sitting or standing at bar counters or using "shared-touch" games like pool tables, darts, pinball machines, or "any other such game equipment that requires social touching of the game equipment."

The rules will apply to all of Mecklenburg County with the exception of the towns of Cornelius and Huntersville, whose mayors elected not to sign the proclamation. The rules also do not apply to alcohol sold at convenience or grocery stores, wine and liquor stores, or retail businesses.

In makingthe announcement Wednesday, County Manager Dena Diorio said the restrictions are intended to clamp down on restaurants where social distancing has not been prioritized.

"This revised proclamation is designed to put a stop the behaviors we have seen in recent weeks, where we have seen videos of establishments where patrons are not wearing masks and social distancing has been nonexistent," she said. "It is unfortunate that we must take these steps due to the poor decisions by some bad actors."

Restaurants in uptown and South End have received particular attention for drawing crowds in recent months. Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt tweeted images in late May with the caption "#SocialDistancing is a thing of the past here in #SouthEnd," and WBTV reported on social media complaints involving crowds at several restaurants in Charlotte, including Ink N Ivy in uptown.

Violating the new restrictions could result in a misdemeanor charge, according to the county manager. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Deputy Chief Jeff Estes says officers will focus on educating businesses first and will issue citations later if a business knowingly and intentionally commits a violation.

Estes noted that alcohol sales are already regulated by the state and are normally cut off after 2 a.m.

"This is just moving the hours back," he said, "so we can get a hold on the lack of social distancing and, quite frankly, in my opinion, irresponsible business operations by some businesses here in the county so we can hopefully try to stem the tide of COVID-19."

Diorio said the full proclamation will be posted on the county's website Thursday morning. The order will remain in effect for as long as North Carolina remains in Phase 2 of reopening, which is currently set to expire on August 7.

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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