New pandemic stay-at-home order to close most NC businesses by 10 pm
Posted December 8, 2020 4:03 a.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2020 1:21 p.m. EST
"We have to act now to save lives, safeguard our hospital capacity and preserve our economy," Cooper said during an afternoon news conference.
The order will require all restaurants, bars, personal care businesses and most retailers to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations can remain open past 10 p.m. Alcohol sales for on-site consumption will have to end at 9 p.m.
The stay-at-home order "means just what it says – people are to stay home during those hours," the governor said, noting that late-night gatherings have helped accelerate the spread of the virus in recent weeks.
"It's pretty clear the later in the evening you go, the larger some of these gatherings can be at some of these businesses," he said. "What we're trying to do is to chip away at those times."
Both the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and the Raleigh Police Department said they are prepared for additional calls dealing with violations of the order, but they said they will continue to warn and educate people before issuing citations.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you we are going to go out and just aggressively start looking for violations, but we are going to step it up," Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said. "At the end of the day it’s about trying to save lives.”
Raleigh Police Deputy Chief Todd Jordan said it would take a complaint or more information to lead to any violation.
“We would not go out and start stopping vehicles or stopping individuals if they are walking up the street," he said. "We would need more information to want to conduct the stop and go down the path of any kind of enforcement.”
North Carolina surpassed 400,000 total coronavirus cases during the pandemic on Tuesday, when another 4,670 infections were reported. The average number of new cases over the past week of 5,234 a day is at an all-time high.
The daily averages for virus-related deaths and hospitalizations are also at records, with 46 deaths per day and 2,182 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals. Tuesday was the 12th straight day North Carolina set a new high in virus hospitalizations, at 2,373 people.
North Carolina's color-coded county alert system to illustrate viral hotspots across the state now shows 48 of the 100 counties in the red zone, with critical spread of the virus, up from 20 just two weeks ago. Another 34 are considered orange, with substantial viral spread.
COVID-19 County Alert System
Much of the Triangle is in the orange zone, although Johnston and Harnett counties are among those in the red zone. Orange County is one of the 18 counties still in the lowest-tier yellow zone, with significant spread.
"The virus is upon us with a rapid viciousness like we haven’t seen before," Cooper said.
Dr. Mandy Cohen called the sharp rise in cases shocking, noting North Carolina has topped 6,000 new cases twice in the past week, which is more than the population of Cooper's hometown of Nashville.
"I'm very worried," Cohen said, adding that she expects the caseload to continue going up in the coming days, as the impact from people's recent Thanksgiving travel and gatherings becomes fully evident. "Don’t wait until your family member is in a hospital bed alone. We need to act now."
Steve Lawler, president of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, applauded the new restrictions and urged people statewide to pitch in in the fight against the virus.
"COVID-19 is in our communities, no matter where you live," Lawler said in a statement. "While recent news about vaccine development is encouraging, we don’t know exactly when a vaccine will be FDA-approved and widely available. We are asking everyone to do your part to care for the brave health care workers who are caring for COVID-19 patients and for all of you and your loved ones."
Cooper's new executive order, which runs through Jan. 8, doesn't change the capacity limits already in place for various businesses or the 10- and 50-person limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, respectively. It also keeps in place the requirement that people wear masks whenever they're around anyone who isn't part of their household.
In other states, like California, restaurants have been required to shut dining rooms completely. Cooper said he hopes North Carolina doesn't have to take such steps and expressed confidence that the new stay-at-home order, together with existing rules, will help the state's pandemic trend lines.
"Let me be clear we will do more if our trends do not improve," he said. "That means additional actions involving indoor restaurant dining, entertainment facilities and shopping or retail capacity."
Restaurants irked by curfew
Restaurant owners said the new curfew already goes too far, once again hitting an industry that has sustained major hits during the pandemic.
"It’s stupid, and it doesn’t make any sense," Rocky Mount restaurateur Lou Reda said. "All they are doing is punishing people."
Business at Lou Reda's: An American Table at Tap@1918 is already down 50 percent, Reda said, and he’s not sure his businesses can survive any more restrictions.
"To get us nine months in, give us a set of rules and now, all of the sudden, you are going to change those rules after we have figured out how to keep the doors open is going to shut down more businesses," he said. "There’s just no rhyme or reason to it."
Michael Thor, the owner of Whiskey Kitchen in Raleigh, said the new curfew will likely take another 10 percent off his business, which is already down 70 percent during the pandemic. The added restrictions are especially painful since neither state nor federal officials have any relief aid to offer him or his employees.
“We should be shut down, but we cannot shut down unless there’s a plan as to how all of my employees are going to be able to maintain their livelihoods with a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerator," Thor said.
Elizabeth Turnbull, the owner of Copa in Durham, said the restaurant industry has been "unfairly singled out" by government restrictions during the pandemic.
"We've seen our numbers plummet in the last month, and this is just going to make it worse by making it less appealing and making it harder for people to come out to eat," Turnbull said. "People just don't feel safe, and they don't feel safe because their leaders are telling them not to do it."
Even though Johnston County is in the red zone, Tom Kane, general manager of Cleveland Draft House in Clayton, said the curfew will only send his customers elsewhere.
"When we shut down all the restaurants, the grocery stores became the restaurants, and there were hundreds of people inside grocery stores," kane said. "That’s a more challenging environment because people are touching and picking things up and putting them back down. I hope that [the governor] considers the people that are going to be affected by it."
Lynn Minges, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said she appreciates Cooper's "measured approach," noting he could have shutter restaurant dining rooms altogether. Restaurants might need to start serving dinner earlier to accommodate holiday season crowds before the curfew, she said.
"A 10 o'clock curfew, while certainly not the best news we've had today, is certainly something we're going to learn to live with," Minges said. "We're willing to step up and do whatever it takes to keep businesses open. We've come too far over the past eight months to turn back now."
"We're just happy to be open," said Jason Smith, the owner of Cantina 18 in Raleigh. "We knew there would be more restrictions, but the key right now is staying open and keeping as many people employed as I can."
Reda said he’s followed all state and local restrictions so far, but he's reached a breaking point.
"They’re just too arbitrary and too restrictive," he said. "If it comes down to, do I [follow] the rules or do I feed my family, it’s a no-brainer."
"We aren’t putting these orders out there to get anybody in trouble. We’re putting them out there to save lives," Cooper said.
WRAL multimedia journalist Leslie Moreno contributed to this report.