By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – The last call for alcohol will be 11 p.m. starting Friday at restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries across North Carolina, according to a new executive order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Cooper signed the order limiting the sale of alcohol drinks Tuesday, July 28, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
“Slowing the spread of this virus requires targeted strategies that help lower the risk of transmission,” Cooper said. “This will be particularly important as colleges and universities are scheduled to start, bringing people all over the country to our state. We have seen case numbers increase among younger people, and prevention is critical to slowing the spread of the virus.”
Stores and other establishments that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption will be allowed to continue business as usual Friday. Local ordinances that limit alcohol sales also take precedence over Cooper’s executive order.
Cooper barred in-dining services in North Carolina on March 17. On May 22, restaurants and other dining establishments were allowed to resume services with limited capacity.
While Cooper kept private bars closed, the other businesses were able to serve alcohol because the dine-in settings could be controlled for social distancing, the governor said.
However, there were incidences where bar areas in restaurants were overcrowded and overrun, said Lynn Minges, president of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Later, guidance was issued that only allowed restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages with food.
Minges said Cooper’s new executive order allows restaurants to continue to operate responsibly amid the pandemic.
“So, the ordinance yesterday was not a big change for us,” she said. “It really was just clarifying what we already understood was the intent of the law.”
Patrons sitting and eating at a restaurant can still drink alcoholic beverages after 11 p.m. as long as the drinks were ordered by the cut-off time. Still, state law allows only one drink to be ordered at a time.
“They can continue to order, and sit at their tables, but they can’t be up in a congregate sort of setting and continue to drink, in effect, becoming a bar late at night,” Minges said.
North Carolina’s COVID-19 numbers appeared to be stabilizing, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC Department of Human Health Services secretary.
Trends in COVID-like illness and the percent of positive test results have declined over the past 14 days. Seven percent of the 27,469 tests reported to NCDHHS Wednesday were positive for COVID-19.
Lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are leveling off, but are still high, said Cohen, and hospitalizations are increasing.
As of Wednesday, NCDHHS has reported a total of 117,580 cases of COVID-19 in the state, and there are 1,291 people currently in the hospital with symptoms. Close to half of the cases in the state have been identified in people, who are 25 to 49 years old.