TRIAD — Gov. Roy Cooper will ease more COVID-19 restrictions, including dropping the outdoor mask mandate, effective this Friday afternoon as state public health officials keep moving toward a new normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor announced Wednesday that masks still will be required indoors but will no longer be mandated outdoors. That means high school athletes also will no longer be required to wear masks in outdoor sports, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Masks remain strongly recommended outdoors by state public health advocates for those who are in crowded areas and higher-risk settings where social distancing is difficult.

Cooper also raised the capacity limit for gatherings effective at 5 p.m. Friday: The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 50 to 100, and the number of people who may gather outdoors will increase from 100 to 200.

Occupancy limits won’t change for businesses such as restaurants and personal care salons and other venues, Cooper said during the latest COVID-19 briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh.

Cooper and Cohen reiterated that the state still plans to ease more restrictions effective June 1. That would include pulling back on indoor mask restrictions if at least two-thirds of North Carolinians have had at least one dose of vaccine.

As of Wednesday, nearly 49% of state residents 18 and older had at least one dose, but surveys have shown that a large number of those who have not yet been vaccinated are hesitant to get the shots. Most of those who have gotten a shot, or a little more than 39% of all adults, have been fully vaccinated.

The plan for June 1 changes also will depend on COVID-19 metrics such as infection rates and hospitalizations remaining on a positive trend.

“While our numbers are mostly stable, we have more work to do to beat back this pandemic,” Cooper said. “Let’s work hard in May and get as many people vaccinated as we can before summer gets here.”

Cohen said more clinics are dropping vaccination appointment requirements, which is making it easier to get inoculated through walk-ins.

“Fortunately, we now have enough vaccine for everyone,” Cohen said. “They are free and widely available across the state.”

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