What NC’s new rules mean for bars, sports arenas and more: Answers to common questions

Brooke Cain, Drew Jackson
·5 min read

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, noting on Wednesday that the state’s COVID-19 trends have “declined and stabilized” over the past month, eased some COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings, but kept other rules in place.

The state has been under restrictions since last March.

“When it comes to easing some restrictions, we’re depending on people to be responsible,” Cooper said at a press conference.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that even though the latest trends are decreasing, they are still elevated and “we need to keep our guard up” — especially with more contagious virus variants showing up.

Here’s what the changes mean.

Can North Carolina bars open indoors?

Yes, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic nearly one year ago, bars will be able to serve drinks indoors.

Starting Friday, Feb. 26, bars can open up inside at 30% capacity.

Patrons will still need to stay socially distanced, remaining seated at a table or counter, and will need to wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking.

Technically, bars have been open since October 2020, but that only allowed outdoor service and limited capacity to 30%, which in some cases meant only one or two tables. With those limits, many bars remained closed through winter.

Why weren’t bars already open?

Last year, when Cooper reopened restaurants for indoor service, bars were ordered to remain closed. Bar owners have lobbied for months to reopen and even filed multiple lawsuits against the state, each one unsuccessful. In those suits, attorneys for North Carolina argued that human behavior and the confined nature of bars made them likely spreaders of COVID-19. Bar owners continued to ask for the same 50% occupancy as restaurants.

When is last call?

The new alcohol curfew is 11 p.m., pushed back from 9 p.m., where it’s been since December.

What changes for restaurants?

Nothing really changes for restaurants, except they can now serve drinks until 11 p.m. and don’t have to close at 10 p.m. The new executive order keeps the 50% indoor dining restriction in place, which also applies to breweries and wineries.

Patrons will still need to stay socially distanced, remaining seated at a table or counter, and will need to wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking.

When do the new changes take effect?

These changes take effect at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, and last until March 26, 2021.

When can restaurant workers get a vaccine?

On March 10, North Carolina will move into Group 3 of its vaccination phases.

Referred to as “additional frontline workers” that group includes restaurant employees and anyone involved in food preparation and distribution. That group also includes people who work in grocery stores, teachers, government employees, transportation workers, public safety workers and employees of manufacturing facilities.

Do we still have a curfew?

The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will end on Friday, Feb. 26.

Can movie theaters open?

Yes, like indoor bars, movie theaters will be able to open at 30% capacity with a 250-person limit per screen.

Patrons will still need to stay socially distanced.

Can fans attend indoor sports events?

A few fans can attend, depending on the size of the arena, and will need to stay socially distanced.

Larger indoor sports arenas, those with seating of more than 5,000 (such as PNC Arena or UNC’s Smith Center), can have attendance at 15% of their capacity, with no cap on the number of people inside.

Smaller indoor arenas, those that seat fewer than 5,000 people, can open at 30% capacity, but that number will cap at 250 people.

Workers, entertainers, athletes and any other support staff do not count toward the capacity limits at these events.

What about outdoor music venues?

Outdoor venues, such as Red Hat Amphitheater and the Coastal Credit Union Music Park, will be allowed to seat spectators at 30% of capacity.

As with sports arenas, workers, entertainers and any other support staff do not count toward the capacity limits at these events.

People attending these events will need to remain seated and socially distanced, and wear masks when not actively eating or drinking.

What about nightclubs?

Nightclubs, lounges and other small venues for live performances are open at 30% capacity, but patrons must remain seated unless entering or exiting the venue, using the restroom or obtaining food or drinks. There is a 250-person cap at these small venues.

The seating must follow social distancing rules and patrons must wear masks unless actively eating or drinking.

Do capacity limits increase for other businesses?

Capacity limits remain at 50% for restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, bowling alleys, skating rinks, rock climbing venues, outdoor areas of amusement parks, gyms and fitness facilities, pools, museums and aquariums, retail businesses, salons and personal care businesses and tattoo parlors.

Social distancing and mask rules still apply.

Can we have larger gatherings now?

The limit for indoor social gatherings will increase from 10 to 25 people, but those people are still encouraged to wear face coverings.

Outdoor social gathering limits are now at 50 people.

What are the other changes?

Indoor areas of amusement parks can now reopen, at 30% capacity and with social distancing and mask.

Any businesses previously operating outdoors at 30% capacity will no longer have a 100-person cap.

Do we still have to wear masks?

Yes, the mandatory statewide mask mandate does not change.

Under that order, masks are required when out in public, particularly when you are not able to maintain a distance from others.

Additionally, masks should be worn by all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants, and salons and personal care businesses. Masks are also required for workers in manufacturing, construction, state government agencies, meat processing and agriculture settings, and for those riding public transportation.