Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Governor Roy Cooper will ease maximum occupancy limits in retail shops, salons, restaurants, gyms, bars, sports arenas, and other indoor venues, starting Friday at 5 p.m., when his current COVID-19 executive order expires. The statewide mask mandate and requirements for social distancing, however, will “remain in place,” the Governor said this afternoon at a COVID-19 update briefing.

According to Governor Cooper, the “main changes” under his new Executive Order 204 are:

  • 100 percent: Retail businesses and shops, salons and other personal-care businesses, museums, and aquariums will increase in maximum occupancy to 100 percent, up from the current 50 percent.
  • 75 percent: Restaurants, breweries and wineries, gyms and pools, and amusement parks will increase in occupancy to 75 percent, up from the current 50 percent.
  • 50 percent: Bars, sports arenas, conference centers, and live-event venues will increase in occupancy to 50 percent, up from 30 percent.

All businesses will be expected to enforce six-foot social distancing among customers and patrons, as they do now, he said.

Executive Order 204 also will raise the mass-gathering size limits to 100 people for outdoor gatherings, up from 50 people; and to 50 people for indoor gatherings, up from 25. The 11 p.m. curfew for on-premises alcohol sales also will “be lifted,” the Governor said, ending at 5 p.m. Friday.

The new Executive Order will remain in effect until 5 p.m. on April 30, unless it is rescinded, amended, or otherwise altered before then.

You may access EO 204 here:


FAQs about the order are available here:


The easing of restrictions comes after a sustained period of improvement in the state’s COVID-19 metrics and a “fast and fair” administration of vaccines statewide, the Governor said.

North Carolina is “holding stable” in the COVID-19 pandemic, and “our numbers are remaining steady,” he said.

“We’re in a promising place,” agreed Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, who joined the Governor at the briefing.

But we still “need to keep our guard up,” the Secretary cautioned, because of the presence in North Carolina of COVID-19 variants, including the UK variant.

Dr. Cohen also said that while COVID-19 cases statewide have been declining, they “are starting to plateau,” which may be a consequence of the variants.

“This virus is changing,” she said, expressing concern about the “more contagious [UK strain that] spreads more easily.”

Dr. Cohen described as “lower-risk settings” those business venues and other public settings whose occupancy restrictions were either eliminated or increased above 50 percent by the new Executive Order. The COVID-19 risk is considered to be lower in settings where people are more apt to wear their masks consistently and to maintain six-foot social distancing, she said.

Bars, sports arenas, and other venues in the new 50-percent category are considered “higher-risk settings,” because people are gathered closely together indoors and do not consistently wear their masks when they “are not actively eating or drinking,” she said, nor do they maintain their distance from each other.

According to Dr. Cohen, 31.7 percent of North Carolina’s 18-and-over adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 18.8 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated.

“We’ve administered more than 4.1 million doses,” Governor Cooper said.

LOCALLY, the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services reported today a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases during the past week. Fifty-four new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Dare County from March 17 to March 23, an increase of 12 over the previous week and 20 or more cases over the two weeks immediately preceding it.

According to the DCDHHS’s bulletin today, “More than one-third of these new cases were linked to small outbreaks among employees at three different businesses and nearly all of the remaining new cases were linked to direct contact between family members and close friends.”

Fifty of the 54 people who newly tested positive for COVID-19 acquired the virus by direct contact with “an individual or individuals who were positive for COVID-19,” according to the DCDHHS.

The bulletin also noted encouragingly that there have been no cases in Dare County of “fully vaccinated people getting the COVID-19 virus”—at least, none, we would point out, who experienced symptoms and then tested positive for it. The possibility of fully vaccinated people becoming infected with COVID-19, but being asymptomatic and not seeking testing, still exists.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/23/21

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