ASHE COUNTY — On April 21, Gov. Roy Cooper made an announcement stating that he anticipates that all mandatory social distancing, mass gathering and capacity restrictions will be lifted by June 1 in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, he announced that masks will no longer be required outdoors and mass gatherings outside will increase from 100 to 200, effective April 30.

“Although we’re making progress, we haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet and the virus will still be with us, even after June 1,” Cooper said. “We need to keep being responsible, we need to keep wearing masks. We need to get more people vaccinated and we need businesses to keep paying attention to current executive orders, and future health recommendations.”

The current executive order allows restaurants, breweries and wineries, amusement parks, gyms and pools to have 75 percent capacity with 100 percent outdoor capacity.

Conference centers, bars, sports arenas, movie theaters and other live performance venues will be allowed to have 50 percent capacity with safety protocols in place. The 11 p.m. curfew for alcohol sales was also ended in the new executive order. The sports arena capacity includes high school sports venues.

Museums, aquariums, retail businesses and shops as well as barbers, salons and personal care businesses can open up at 100 percent.

As masks will no longer be required outdoors, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state would not lift the indoor face mask mandate until at least two-thirds of adults in the state have had at least one vaccine dose.

As of May 2, 39.3 percent of North Carolinians have had at least one does of vaccine while 32.8 percent are fully vaccinated, according to NCDHHS.

In response to the order, businesses in Ashe County are looking forward to the ease of the guidelines, but still plan to proceed with caution as cases of COVID-19 continue to fluctuate throughout the county.

“We’re excited for more people to come in,” said manager of Mountain Outfitters, Helemarie Reavis. “We allow people to make their own decisions when coming through our doors, but we’re constantly cleaning and making sure we stop the spread of germs.”

District manager of Bojangles Bill Baker said that even with the new order, the Bojangles located in Jefferson is really only at 50 percent capacity due to the size of the restaurant.

They keep a six to eight feet distance from chairs and tables.

“In all of our restaurants, we’re really only hitting 50 percent,” said Baker. “When they went to 75 percent, it didn’t really increase our seating capacity because of the social distancing in place.”

Baker said he does believe restaurants could increase to 100 percent capacity later this year as the pandemic levels out.

Staffing has also been an issue for Bojangles and Baker said it continues to be their biggest obstacle.

“We’re taking some steps to change how we’re approaching new hires, but there’s really not a lot of movement,” said Baker.

He said he hopes that people will be more open to looking for jobs as the guidelines ease.

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