COVID-19 Updates and News Roundup

Published for Coates' Canons on December 11, 2020.

This week brought a lot of news about the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Roy Cooper issued a modified stay-at-home order, which takes effect at 5:00 p.m. today. The FDA took the first step toward authorizing use of a COVID-19 vaccine. My colleagues at SOG have been writing and advising about multiple issues associated with the pandemic, including the temporary halt to evictions, the effect on the criminal justice system, and the many employment law issues COVID-19 continues to raise. This post summarizes a couple of the latest developments and provides resources for keeping track of COVID-19 as this extraordinary year draws to a close.

NC’s Modified Stay-at-Home Order Takes Effect Today

On Tuesday, December 8, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 181 (EO 181), implementing a modified stay-at home order and closing many businesses at night for the next several weeks. The order takes effect on Friday, December 11 at 5:00 p.m. and expires on January 8, 2021, unless modified or extended.

A general exemption to the order’s requirements is provided for religious services, ceremonies, and observations, as well as other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment Rights. The order strongly urges entities and individuals engaging in such activities to follow social distancing recommendations, and to require face coverings and observe maximum occupancy limits for facilities in the places they meet. EO 181, sec. 1.2.

Requirement to Stay Home between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

EO 181 requires all North Carolinians to stay at home between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. There is an exception for individuals experiencing homelessness, but they are strongly urged to obtain shelter and governmental and other entities are strongly urged to provide shelter. There is also an exception for individuals whose homes are or become unsafe.

Leaving home between those hours is permitted:

  • For work purposes;
  • To obtain food, groceries, medical care, health care supplies, fuel, or social services;
  • To care for a person or pet in another household;
  • When travel is necessary for personal safety; or
  • When travel is required by law enforcement or court order.

The order also permits individuals to travel into or out of the state, and it allows using or providing various forms of shared transportation, ranging from taxis to airplanes. There are additional exceptions for individual travel to or from religious services, other First Amendment activities that are generally exempted from the order, or collegiate or professional sporting events. The following groups are also excepted from the requirement to stay home: the media; law enforcement, fire, paramedics, and other emergency and first responders; and the federal, state, and local governments. EO 181, sec. 4.3.

The order also recommends, but does not require, that North Carolinians work from home whenever possible. In addition, people who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as defined by the CDC are “very strongly encouraged to stay home and travel only for absolutely essential purposes.” EO 181, sec. 1.4.

Businesses Closed between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

Most businesses and organizations must close their premises to the public between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., under section 3.17 of the order. However, this requirement does not apply to retail businesses that sell groceries, fuel, or medications or health care supplies, nor does it apply to organizations that provide services to people who are experiencing homelessness or whose residences are unsafe.

Restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and wineries must stop taking new orders at a time that will allow them to close on-premises dining and exclude guests by the 10:00 p.m. closure time. Such establishments may continue to offer delivery, drive-through, curbside pick-up, or carryout business between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

Businesses and organizations that are subject to the closure requirement may remain open for employees and other workers and may otherwise conduct their activities, so long as the public is not admitted.

There are additional exceptions to the closure requirement for child care facilities and overnight camps, government operations, health care settings, transportation, and workplaces in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.

No Sale or Service of Alcoholic Beverages for On-site Consumption between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Section 4.1 of EO 181 prohibits the sale or service of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Businesses and organizations that sell or serve alcoholic beverages are also prohibited from doing the following during those hours: providing off-site table service, catering, or bartending services for the purposes of consumption at the premises where the alcohol is served.

Events Must End or Pause by 10:00 p.m.

Events or convenings outside the home must end or pause no later than 10:00 p.m. This requirement applies to movie screenings, live entertainment performances, and youth and amateur sporting events. There is an exception for professional and collegiate sporting events. EO 181, sec. 4.2.

Other Provisions

Other provisions of Executive Order 181 address:

  • Face coverings. Section 2 of the order imposes a general requirement that all people age 5 or older wear face coverings when in public places outside their homes. There are exceptions for certain individuals, including those who should not wear face coverings because of a medical or behavioral condition or disability. Businesses may accommodate individuals who are excepted from the face covering requirement by providing a reasonable alternative service, such as curbside service. Law enforcement may enforce the face covering requirement against businesses that fail to require face coverings, or against individuals who fail to wear face coverings when an exception does not apply to them.
  • Additional provisions applicable to specific businesses. Section 3 of EO 181 sets out the capacity, face covering, social distancing, or other requirements for several categories of specific businesses, including amusement parks; bars, night spots, and arenas; child care facilities; children’s day care facilities or overnight camps; fitness and physical activity facilities; government operations; health care settings; movie theaters, meeting spaces, and entertainment facilities; museums and aquariums; parks; personal care, grooming, and tattoo businesses; pools; restaurants; retail businesses; transportation; and workplaces in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.
  • Indoor and outdoor gathering limits. Section 5 of the order defines “mass gathering” and limits attendance at mass gatherings to a maximum of 10 people indoors, or 50 people outdoors. There are exceptions for businesses whose limits are imposed by other parts of the order and for certain types of gatherings. Drive-in events where participants stay within their own vehicles are not subject to the limits.
  • Large outdoor facilities. Section 6 of the order establishes capacity limits and other requirements for outdoor facilities with seating capacities of 10,000 or more. 

The order also addresses other matters that may be of particular interest to health departments and local governments. Section 7.1 orders the State Health Director to issue a statewide standing order for COVID-19 testing. Section 7.3 provides further information about the effect of the Governor’s order on local emergency management orders, including specific prohibitions on local orders that would prevent COVID-19 testing or vaccination.

The state has provided further guidance about the order in the form of a frequently asked questions document, which is available here.

COVID-19 Vaccines

North Carolina has developed extensive plans for receiving, distributing, and administering COVID-19 vaccine to state residents when it becomes available for use in the United States. A key milestone was reached yesterday, December 10, when an FDA panel recommended issuing an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.  An EUA would allow the vaccine to begin to be provided to the public. Additional action by the FDA and the CDC is expected over the weekend. If all goes as anticipated, the vaccine could be administered to North Carolinians as early as next week, when the state expects to receive its initial allocation of doses from the federal government.

Another company, Moderna, has applied for an EUA for its COVID-19 vaccine as well. Its application will be considered when the FDA panel that makes recommendations meets again next Thursday. If that process proceeds as anticipated, two versions of the vaccine should be in use by the end of the month.

North Carolina has developed an interim plan for providing vaccinations to individuals in the state, beginning with health care providers who are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, closely followed by individuals in long-term care and other congregate living situations. The plan was developed by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with an advisory committee convened by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. (Disclosure: I am a member of the advisory committee.) The priority order for providing vaccines to individuals is summarized in this infographic. The prioritization plan was based on recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine and is subject to change to reflect recommendations of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Additional information about the vaccine and North Carolina’s plan is available on the N.C. DHHS COVID-19 website, at

Recent SOG Resources on COVID-19 Issues

My colleagues at the SOG continue to work, write, teach, and advise on a number of COVID-19 issues. Here’s a sampling from this week:

  • On Wednesday, my colleagues Diane Juffras and Bob Joyce hosted an “office hours” session, providing updates about a number of employment law issues the pandemic has raised. A recording of the session is available here.
  • The North Carolina Criminal Law Blog has been providing updates on the effect of the pandemic on North Carolina’s criminal justice system. You can read the latest here.
  • SOG faculty member Dona Lewandowski has been keeping track of the effect of federal and state actions to temporarily halt summary ejectments (evictions) in North Carolina during the pandemic. On Wednesday, she published Summary Ejection in the Time of COVID, Part 2: The CDC Order and EO 171

For more information about COVID-19 and North Carolina legal issues, please continue to follow our blogs and check out our COVID-19 website at

To keep track of the virus in North Carolina, and for the latest guidance for North Carolinians, I strongly recommend that you bookmark N.C. DHHS’s coronavirus website:

Please stay safe, and please keep practicing your three Ws: wear your mask, wait 6 feet apart, and wash your hands frequently.

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Topics - Local and State Government