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Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that he plans to lift almost all restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic on June 1.
Restrictions limiting capacity at indoor restaurants, bars and concert venues are among those that will be lifted, as are limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. The only restriction that Cooper plans to keep in effect is North Carolina’s mask mandate.
“With increasing vaccinations and ongoing work to slow the spread, I anticipate we’ll be able to lift all mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering restrictions by June 1,” Cooper said.
The current existing order expires April 30. Cooper said he’ll issue a new order next week with safety restrictions for May.
The current 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 under the order.
Last week, three experts told The News & Observer that they are generally comfortable with outdoor gatherings, especially if there are people attending who have not yet had the COVID-19 vaccine. The experts recommended continuing to keep gatherings smaller for now, though, especially with new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus circulating in North Carolina.
As of Monday, 3.63 million North Carolinians have received the first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, while 2.64 million people have received both doses, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Another 252,829 people were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine before federal officials recommended a halt to use of the vaccine while they investigate a very rare blood clot issue with at least six people.
In all, 37% of North Carolinians are partially vaccinated while 27.6% are fully vaccinated.
There are some troubling signs in the 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 190,278 first doses given last week are far and away the lowest administered across the two programs since the week of February 15.
Vice President Kamala Harris was in North Carolina on Monday touting the administration’s infrastructure and jobs plan. She also talked briefly about vaccine hesitancy and said they need to take the issue seriously.
”It’s real. So that is about continuing to do the work of reminding folks that it is safe, that it is effective, that it will save their lives. Reminding folks that it is not enough to get vaccinated — we also want to make sure that people continue to wear their mask, social distance, wash their hands,” Harris told reporters.
She said the vaccines are results of years of scientific work, and that what’s most important is “that everyone get their vaccine when it is their turn.”