Charlotte businesses and residents now know when coronavirus pandemic restrictions could end in the state.
Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday many pandemic-related restrictions, including limits on business capacity and distancing requirements, are expected to end June 1. The state’s mask mandate will remain in place.
“After June 1, we hope that that mask mandate would only be required for people in public places indoors,” Cooper said.
Joe Kuhlmann, co-owner of The Evening Muse, said he was still trying to digest the news.
“We’re anxious to get people back in for shows and have artists come back,” he said. The music venue still plans to reopen in May with current COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s very emotional,” Kuhlmann said. “It’s been a struggle, and we’ve lost a lot of businesses and lives destroyed physically and financially. I want to honor those that didn’t make it.”
NC’s current COVID rules
Cooper’s existing executive order limits most outdoor gatherings to 100 people and indoor gatherings to 50 people. Retail establishments can operate at full capacity under the order, while restaurants are limited to 75% capacity inside. Bars, concert venues and sports arenas are limited to 50% capacity.
The governor said he will release a new executive order detailing guidelines for the month of May next week.
The latest news comes as all adults have been eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine since April 7. Across the state, more than one-third of North Carolinians are fully vaccinated, Cooper said.
He said the state needs to see at least two-thirds of NC adults vaccinated — and if that happens, North Carolina may be able to lift all mask mandates, Cooper said. “We now have an adequate supply vaccines, so we need everybody to step up,” Cooper said.
NoDa Company Store co-owner Joey Hewell said the end of most coronavirus restrictions is “great news for us.”
The bar has had to cancel events during the pandemic like Sunday Funday free lunch and NoDa Prom. Hewell said he’s excited to potentially start bringing back events over the summer.
But NoDa Company Store will continue to follow the advice of health experts moving forward. “We want to make sure we’re keeping our patrons safe,” he said. “At the same time, we never want to turn anyone away.”
‘We have been through a lot’
The pandemic has also given some businesses a chance to make big changes.
Uptown restaurant Deluxe, The Fun Art of Dining, has updated its menu and interiors, and even built an outdoor patio during the coronavirus pandemic, co-owner Astrik Ivanova said.
The last year and a half has been a struggle for businesses, Ivanova said, so the end of many COVID-19 restrictions is a positive step.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for for over a year,” she said. “We have been through a lot.”
But Ivanova said she expects many safety protocols from during the pandemic will stick around. “All the good habits, keeping everything safe and clean, will stay with us,” she said.
Some places may keep restrictions
Some business owners may not rush to remove restrictions.
Orgire McCoy, owner of Beatties Ford Road Hardware, said even if the state rolled back all restrictions in June, she will continue to keep some COVID-19 safety protocols in place. That would include cashier plastic shields, social distancing floor markers and require masks.
She’ll do that “until we feel like it’s safe to take them down.”
The hardware store has operated at full capacity for several weeks.
“It’s been excellent,” she said. “What he (Cooper) has done has saved lives and I admire him for what he did.”
Local and state trends
The news comes as Mecklenburg sees a slight increase in COVID-19 trends.
In a news conference Wednesday, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said statewide reopening and recent holidays likely contributed to the increased trends locally.
“We have got to continue to wear masks and socially distance and avoid crowds,” Harris said. “Those are things that we’re going to have to continue to do moving forward.”
There are some troubling signs in state data, however.
Last week, the first full week that anyone over 16 was eligible for a shot in North Carolina, also saw a decline in the number of first doses administered by providers who are receiving vaccines from the state allocation and the federal pharmacy program that is sending shots to places like CVS and Walgreens.
The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed to this report