North Carolina Enters Phase One of Easing COVID-19 Restrictions

May 7, 2020
North Carolina Flag waving in the wind

Gov. Roy Cooper took executive action this week related to North Carolina’s response to the COVID-19 virus. The move transitions North Carolina into the first phase of a plan to gradually ease statewide restrictions that are said to have slowed the spread of the coronavirus.  

On Tuesday, May 5, Gov. Cooper issued Executive Order 138, which is set to go into effect at 5 p.m., Friday, May 8 and remain in effect through 5 p.m., Friday, May 22. The Order keeps in place the statewide “Stay At Home” order first issued in Executive Order 121 on March 27, but lessens and modifies some of the restrictions by allowing individuals more reasons to leave home, removing the designation of “essential businesses” and maintaining social distancing requirements and certain business closures.

With respect to individuals, a physical distancing barrier of at least six feet must continue to be maintained, citizens are encouraged to wear face coverings and should not gather in groups of more than 10 people. People may leave home for “allowable activities,” but also to shop at places such as clothing, sporting goods and housewares stores.

With respect to businesses and facilities:

  • Bars, personal care businesses like hair and nail salons, entertainment venues and gyms are still prohibited from opening.  
  • Restaurants may continue serving customers with to-go orders and delivery but no in-house seating is permitted. 
  • Retail stores can open at 50% capacity if they maintain customer and employee social distancing, administer extra cleaning, screen employees for symptoms, accommodate vulnerable workers and “provide education to employees and workers to combat misinformation.”
  • Employers are encouraged to use teleworking.
  • Childcare facilities may reopen but must follow strict guidelines; and summer day camps can operate if they follow Centers for Disease Control and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.
  • Churches may hold drive-in services and outdoor services with more than 10 people if attendees follow social distancing.
  • State parks may reopen if they follow social distancing.
  • Restrictions on nursing homes and other congregate care facilities remain.

Local emergency orders with more restrictive measures remain valid, with the exception of retail store requirements and as applied to state government.

The Phase One executive order runs through May 22, but Gov. Cooper said depending upon COVID-19 data and statistical trends, restrictions may decrease, increase or be extended.

FAQs and other helpful materials on this matter may be accessed in the PDF documents below.


Brooks Pierce is dedicated to keeping our clients fully informed during the COVID-19 crisis. For more information, please visit our COVID-19 Response Resources page.

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