Local News

Several Raleigh bars open in defiance of state order; NC coronavirus cases continue to climb

Posted June 26, 2020 10:28 p.m. EDT
Updated June 27, 2020 7:39 p.m. EDT

— On Friday afternoon, Governor Roy Cooper ordered bars to remain closed during the pandemic, citing an upward trend of coronavirus cases in the state. But this weekend, some downtown Raleigh bars were reopening on Friday anyway. Bar owners who spoke to WRAL News said it's the first time they've been open since the shutdown in March.

Initially, bars would not be allowed to open until Phase 3 of Cooper's plan to reopen the state amid the pandemic. However, Cooper delayed that reopening because of worrisome upward trends in coronavirus cases in North Carolina. As of Saturday, about 10% of coronavirus tests done by the state are expected to come back positive.

"These numbers we see are a stark warning, and we must pay attention," the governor said in a press conference on Wednesday. "The numbers will keep us from moving ahead."

Also on Friday, Texas and Florida had to also clamp down on bars due to coronavirus infections reaching an all-time daily high. In one day, Florida saw nearly 9,000 new cases. Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has been criticized for not shutting down more businesses -- particularly bars -- in Florida. That changed after cases surged this week.

But in North Carolina, customers were being welcomed in Glenwood South while also encouraged by business owners to wear masks and practice social distancing. Friday night at 5 p.m., a statewide mask mandate also went into effect.

Raleigh police said they would not be making arrests to enforce any of the state's mandates, but the department would be talking with owners and managers of the bars that reopened.

A statement from the police department read: "Officers will talk with owners/managers with the goal of educating them and encouraging compliance with the governor's orders. Officers will document, report and confer with the District Attorney's Office for any potential charges."

Bar owners say they can't regulate crowds outside of their restaurant waiting to come inside on sidewalks. Inside the bar, owners claim they are doing more than what's required from the state when it comes to social distancing and keeping customers safe.

"We want to be even more responsible," said Tony Basford, owner of PLUS Dueling Piano Bar.

The popular business typically fits about 700 people, but Basford is allowing only 168 people, a third of his capacity with tables 12 feet apart. If customers can’t wear a mask for a health or religious reason, they sign a waiver.

"We go way above and beyond anything any restaurant does by far," Basford said.

On Saturday, Glenwood South operators who reopened as private clubs on Friday released this statement. It read in part:

“In reopening as Private Clubs under the Phase 2 Order on Friday night, the Glenwood South operators did so after carefully studying the Phase 2 Order and all of the legal and other guidance offered by the Governor and ABC. They went above and beyond the restrictions required in the Phase 2 Order. They encouraged patrons to disburse when waiting for entry and required everyone entering their premises to wear a mask or sign that they had a medical or religious reason for not doing so. To say that they reopened illegally or unlawfully is the furthest thing from the truth.

“Moreover, the Glenwood South operators opening as Private Clubs under the Phase 2 Order did so out of sheer necessity. Like more than 1,000 other bars shuttered for more than 100 days, the Glenwood South Private Clubs have been without revenue since the shutdown occurred back in March. They need rent help. If they can’t get it from the Governor as is both his requirement and authority under the Emergency Management Act or the legislature, they’re left with little choice but to try and save their small businesses while doing their level best to comply with all restrictions placed upon them and their operations.”

Other bars and restaurants on the busy street have signs requiring masks and their tables are spaced apart, including Raleigh Beer Garden.

"You’re gonna be well taken care of," said Carlos Rivers of Hibernian Hospitality. "We’re gonna follow all the guidelines to the best of our ability."

A few customers were nervous about going to the bar while the virus could possibly be in the air, while others were not so much worried.

"Now that we’re here and we see everyone not following precautions, it’s a little unnerving," said one of the bar's customers, Becca Dandeneau.

Health experts have said a disturbingly large number of cases are being seen among young people who are going out again, often without wearing masks or observing other social-distancing rules.

The White House held a coronavirus task force briefing — the first one in nearly two months — on Friday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, urged people to mind their responsibility to others: “A risk for you is not just isolated to you.”

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