NC’s bars can now welcome customers back inside as Gov. Cooper eases COVID-19 restrictions

North Carolina news

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The curfew was lifted in North Carolina and some businesses can now operate with looser restrictions.

Sean Umstead is welcoming back patrons to his bar, KingFisher, in Durham.

“It’s been over 11 months since someone’s had a drink in this bar,” Umstead said.

In fact, he said they’ve been closed for COVID-19 longer than the bar itself was open. On Friday, he could invite customers back under Gov. Roy Cooper’s new order.

“It feels kind of like returning to a dream a little bit,” Umstead said.

Before Friday, bars could only operate outdoors at 30 percent capacity. Now they can also have 30 percent capacity inside, which is about 20 people for KingFisher.

“I’m looking forward to proving to myself we can do this safely,” Umstead said.

The limit for bars, taverns, and other indoor venues caps at 250 people, which will benefit industries like catering.

“I think we’re just really excited we’re headed in a good direction,” said Nicole Flynn with Catering Works. Retailers, restaurants, and some other businesses can operate at 50 percent capacity. Alcohol can now be sold until 11 p.m., which is two hours later than before.

“The time we can sell alcohol can be extended, as well, so people’s parties can go longer,” Flynn said.

The CDC director criticized the governor’s decision to loosen rules.

“It’s important to remember where we are in the pandemic. Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky with the CDC.

Cooper’s office said it relied on science and data to ease restrictions and safely move the economy forward.

It’s something business owners like Umstead support, as they’ve taken a financial beating.

“This is just a component, and certainly all of these spaces aren’t financially out of the woods yet,” Umstead said. “The effects of COVID are going to linger a lot longer than necessarily these restrictions will.”

It’s not just the business owners monitoring safety under the new rules. City leaders are, as well. In Raleigh, they’ll have a team out checking if everyone is in compliance. Raleigh has handed out seven citations for businesses violating the governor’s order. They’re working on informing all business owners of the rules and working with them before giving citations.

In Cary, officials said they’ll respond to concerns and focus on education.

Chapel Hill said it will have police on regular patrols but will also put education first.

In Durham, officials said they’ll first talk to businesses about complaints, then serve them with a violation if needed.

In Knightdale, Chief Capps said: “We intend to continue our ‘Educate-Warn-Enforce’ approach in such matters, being careful to adhere to guidelines established by our District Attorney. As with most executive orders, local law enforcement relies on the voluntary compliance of business managers, bar owners, restaurant operators, and patrons. There is no best practice when it comes to enforcing such mandates; however, the owners and managers of these establishments seem to recognize the importance of implementing policies and practices that demonstrate a reasonable, good-faith effort to comply. If our agency receives complaints of potential violations, we work collaboratively with managers and owners to resolve them.”

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