As of 5 p.m. Friday, February 26, North Carolina has lifted the nightly curfew and will allow bars and nightclubs to reopen. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the changes during a news briefing on Wednesday.

The new executive order allows alcohol sales until 11 p.m. and means businesses and venues can reopen with 50% capacity. Cooper also said the mass gathering limit will increase from 10 to 25 indoors. The 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings will stay in place. 

This week, the United States hit 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. In North Carolina, more than 11,000 people have died from the virus.

"Despite these grim statistics, we have reason for hope in North Carolina. Fewer people are getting sick. Fewer are needing a hospital. All the metrics that we measure continue to stabilize," Cooper said.  

The previous executive order was set to expire Friday. North Carolina has been under a nightly 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew since Dec. 8.

"When it comes to easing some restrictions, we're depending on people to be responsible. The mandatory mask mandate won't change. As more people gather together it'll be important to social distance. These proven safety protocols are vital as COVID-19 is infecting people every day," Cooper said.

The COVID-19 numbers continue to improve in North Carolina. As of Wednesday, 1,530 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. That's less than half the number of people hospitalized in the state from a month ago.

That's the lowest number of hospitalizations since Thanksgiving.

The number of new daily confirmed cases continues to go down, with about 3,350 new cases reported Wednesday. That's down from a spike in January of more than 11,000 positive tests in one day.

"After alarmingly high numbers throughout the winter holidays, North Carolina’s trends have declined and stabilized," Cooper said. 

The new case rates are back to where they were in October, according to DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. 

As of Wednesday, teachers in North Carolina could start getting the vaccine. Other essential workers in Group 3 can start getting the vaccine on March 2.

More than 800,000 people in the state have gotten both vaccine shots, according to the state DHHS.

"We’re still far from the end of this pandemic, especially with the vaccine in short supply, millions still to be vaccinated and new variants in the mix. That means we have to keep doing the things we know work – practicing social distancing, washing our hands, wearing our masks," Cooper said.

Here are the details on the new executive order, which is now in effect:

  • No more nightly curfew
  • Alcohol sales allowed until 11 p.m.
  • Businesses like gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers, pools, outdoor amusement parks, stores, and restaurants can open at 50% capacity as long as they follow health and safety protocols
  • Sports fields, venues, stadiums, outdoor bars, outdoor amusement parks, and similar outdoor venues can open at 30% capacity but no longer have a 100-person limit
  • Bars, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters, indoor sports arenas, and similar businesses can reopen with 30% capacity indoors with a 250-person maximum
  • Big indoor arenas, with more than 5,000 seats, can open with 15% capacity. That includes most professional sports and college arenas in North Carolina