The light at the end of the very long and, at times, very dark pandemic tunnel is finally within sight. At an April 21 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he plans to lift mandatory COVID-19 capacity, mass gathering and social distancing requirements by Tuesday, June 1, if current metrics and trends hold steady.
The announcement comes as nearly half of North Carolina’s population ages 18 and older has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. For now, the state’s mask mandate will remain in place, though that’s subject to change if state health officials can successfully vaccinate two-thirds of North Carolina’s population.
If North Carolina can successfully reach that two-thirds vaccination benchmark, Cooper said, the statewide mask mandate may be lifted in most settings. Because children ages 16 and under are not yet eligible for vaccination, safety measures will likely remain in place for settings like schools and summer camps, Cohen added.
“If we can get two-thirds of adults vaccinated, we can get back to the summer activities that we love, like backyard gatherings with family and friends, public fireworks, outdoor festivals and parades, all without wearing masks outside,” she said.
To help meet that goal, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is launching a “Bringing Summer Back: Get Out the Vaccine” campaign. The initiative will run for two weeks in May and two weeks in June, Cohen explained, during which organizations will rally to promote vaccination through volunteer days, scheduling appointments and distributing community resources.
As of April 21, the state has administered over 6.5 million vaccines. Over 28% of the state population is fully vaccinated, according to NCDHHS data, including 71% of people age 65 and older. In Buncombe County, 34.5% of residents have received at least one dose.
“Vaccines are the key to moving forward, to strengthening our economy and making sure our kids are on track for school now and in the fall,” Cooper said. “Each shot we give is a step closer to putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror.”
The current executive order, which is set to expire on Friday, April 30, raised the indoor mass gathering limit from 25 to 50 people and the outdoor mass gathering limit from 50 to 100. Retail businesses can operate at 100% capacity; restaurants, breweries and gyms can operate at 75% capacity indoors and 100% capacity outdoors; and bars, clubs, lounges, sports arenas, auditoriums and live performance venues can operate at 50% capacity.
An announcement regarding restrictions for the month of May is expected next week.