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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s modified stay-at-home order will end on Friday, and many businesses will be able to serve more customers, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Cooper has issued a new executive order that goes into effect on Friday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m.

“Easing these restrictions will only work if we keep protecting ourselves and others from this deadly virus,” Cooper said. “The order and our own common sense say that health and safety protocols must remain in place.”

Effective Friday, Cooper will lift the modified stay-at-home order, ending the state’s curfew and opening up more opportunities to gather, shop and attend events, if done safely.

The mandatory mask mandate remains in place.

Many businesses will be able to stay at or expand to 50% capacity, including gyms, museums, aquariums, pools, outdoor amusement parks, retail establishments, restaurants, breweries and more.

On-site alcohol service will be extended to 11 p.m.

“I’m more excited for my staff to get back to work in here and for the customers to start enjoying the food and the whiskey that we do here,” said Daniel Gatto, at 913 Whiskey Bar.  

913 Whiskey Bar in Greensboro shut down in March. Raising the capacity limit and extending the alcohol curfew to 11 p.m. will put them on a path to reopen.

Business owners in the area are feeling hopeful about the changes.

“It’ll be nice to not have to stop alcohol sales at 9 p.m. and rush people out of here at 10 o’clock because we want to be the experience where people actually feel like they’re not rushed, and they can take a little bit more time and that’s going to help us,” said Tal Blevins, owner of Machete. 

Businesses ordered to operate outdoors at 30% capacity will remain under that restriction. However the 100-person cap will be lifted. This includes outdoor sports fields, amusement parks and bars.

Some indoor businesses can open at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people. This includes bars, taverns, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters and indoor sports arenas. This is the first time that bars have been allowed to open indoors for the first time since early in the pandemic.

There will be an exception for large indoor arenas with a capacity of more than 5,000 people will be allowed to open to 15% of capacity so long as safety protocols are in place.

Cooper will also increase the mass gathering limit to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors

Recent data for North Carolina has shown hospitalizations and the percent positive rate have been trending downward, a positive sign.

“Fewer people are getting sick,” Cooper said. “Fewer are needing the hospital. All of the metrics that we measure are continuing to stabilize.”

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said that 27 counties are in the red with “critical community spread.” However, this shows a drop from a peak of 61 counties.

As of Wednesday, Cooper said that more than half of North Carolinians ages 65 and over have been vaccinated.

Beginning Wednesday, North Carolina’s school employees and child care workers are eligible to get the vaccine. On March 10, more essential workers will be eligible.

Ahead of the announcement, bar and restaurant owners along Glenwood Avenue were cautiously optimistic. 

For the past 11 months, the bar Parliament and many others across the Triangle have been empty.

“Right now we’re digging into our kid’s college funds just trying to find a way to keep afloat until the day comes that we can welcome guests back inside of our businesses, it’s not fair,” said Zack Medford, president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association.

Medford hopes that changes. He says as more than 1 million North Carolinians have been vaccinated and fewer counties remain in the red zone, now is the time for bars to slowly reopen.

Many people still differ on the right way to move forward on the issue.

“We should probably keep the curfew for a little bit longer because the numbers are starting to go back down. But if they do open up bars, I feel like maybe they will spike back up,” said Maddy Ozolins, a Raleigh resident. 

“I definitely think that they should be able to slowly reopen with the vaccine number going up. I think that’s what we need to pay more attention to,” said Raleigh resident Philip Smith.