Outdoor mask rule ends in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolinians will be allowed to assemble in larger groups and gather outdoors starting Friday without having to wear their masks.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday afternoon that the state will soon lift the outdoor mask mandate and boost mass gathering limits to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, which represents a doubling from the current levels.

The Democratic governor’s moves comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces outside anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. Under some circumstances, unvaccinated people don’t need to be masked outside, according to the CDC.

Cooper said masks will still be required indoors and he encouraged people to remain cautious.

“Masks will continue to be required indoors (and) in public places since this virus still can spread easily when we’re inside,” Cooper said. “Even though we’re continuing our dimmer switch approach of easing restrictions, we need to stay vigilant.”

Though additional safety measures, such as mass gathering and social distancing limits are expected to be completely lifted on June 1, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said indoor masks will not be one of them.

North Carolina has set two benchmarks that would have to happen before the state’s indoor mask mandate would be relaxed:

  • Two-thirds of people in the state having had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine
  • COVID trends remaining stable

Cooper plans to eliminate social distancing and mass gathering restrictions by June 1 and eliminate the mask mandate altogether once at least two-thirds of North Carolina adults are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly half of adults in the state have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot and more than 39% are fully vaccinated, as of Tuesday, according to state health department data.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, did not provide a date of when she expects North Carolina to hit the two-thirds vaccinated threshold.

“When will that happen, though, is up to North Carolinians and how quickly people get vaccinated,” Cohen said.

State health officials expect to receive more than 222,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. The state also had about 132,000 single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines available, as of this past weekend.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed recently, with supply outpacing demand in many parts of the state. On the week of April 5, providers administered more than 246,000 first doses. Fewer than 85,000 people got first doses last week, which is the lowest weekly count since the end of December 2020.

Cohen also said many of the state’s COVID-19 metrics are moving in a good direction, but aren’t where the state would like them to be at this point.

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is level.

Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is level.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is level.

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level.

According to Cohen, the faster people get vaccinated, the faster the number of new cases will go down. She said this can be seen in the 65 and older population. With more than 70% of older adults fully vaccinated, the state is seeing significantly fewer cases and hospitalizations in older North Carolinians.

“While our numbers are mostly stable, we have more work to do to beat back this pandemic,” Cooper said. “Let’s work hard in May and get as many people vaccinated as we can before summer gets here.”

The order will also increase mass gathering capacity limits. The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 50 to 100 and the number of people who may gather outdoors will increase from 100 to 200. Occupancy limits currently in place will remain the same.

Currently, restaurants, breweries, wineries, amusement parks, gyms and pools are open at 75%. Bars, conference centers, reception venues, sports arenas and live performance venues are operating at 50%.

State health officials are continuing to monitor COVID-19 and its more contagious variants in North Carolina, which is why Cooper and Cohen said it is important to continue to follow the state’s mask mandate and continue to practice safety precautions, including the Three Ws -- wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash hands often.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Fans at Kannapolis Cannon Ballers’ season opener will have to keep masks on despite Cooper relaxing mandate

Even though the governor will lift the outdoor mask mandate in North Carolina on Friday, fans at Kannapolis Cannon Ballers’ season opener next week should expect to keep their masks on.

Stadium officials said once you step through the gate on gameday, Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 rules kick in. So as of now, even though Cooper is lifting the outdoor mask mandate, fans will still have to wear a mask inside the ballpark.

>> In the video below, Channel 9′s Susanna Black speaks with the team’s general manager about the excitement around the season opener and how they plan to keep fans safe.