RALEIGH — Last call in North Carolina will be 11 p.m. statewide starting Friday.
In a new executive order, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the alcohol curfew Tuesday, following similar measures in other states and some North Carolina cities, including Raleigh and Charlotte.
Public health officials continue to point to bars as potential hot spots for coronavirus outbreaks, particularly as 58% of the state's cases are among people 18 to 49, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
"We're preventing restaurants from turning into bars at night," Cooper said. "We know the bar scene has been a place where we've seen increased transmission. ... There are reports of restaurants that essentially turn into bars late at night."
Here's what you need to know about the new alcohol curfew.
When does the curfew go into effect?
On Friday, restaurants will stop serving alcohol between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. North Carolina will have an early last call at least through Aug. 31, when Executive Order 153, which establishes the curfew, is set to expire.
How are grocery stores and retail shops affected?
The new curfew only applies to the serving of alcoholic drinks, so restaurants, brewery taprooms, wineries, distilleries and country clubs are prevented from selling drinks after 11 p.m. Retail sales, such as grocery stores, are not affected by the curfew.
However, Raleigh's alcohol ordinance includes grocery stores. In that case, residents are expected to follow the more strict of the requirements.
Does this mean bars are reopening?
No, bars will remain closed, Cooper said, and they don't look to reopen anytime soon. Bars haven't been able to reopen under Phase Two of North Carolina's reopening plan, which is in effect until at least Aug. 7. The new executive order makes a couple of mentions of bars remaining closed, so it could be awhile before the state's cocktail bars welcome back guests.
What if a city already has an alcohol curfew?
Raleigh, Charlotte and Orange County have already passed alcohol curfews, with Raleigh and Charlotte cutting off sales at 11 p.m. and Orange County making last call 10 p.m.
On Tuesday, Cooper said that the strictest order would apply if a city or county has its own curfew. So Chapel Hill restaurants can still only serve until 10 p.m., while those in Cary can serve until 11 p.m.
Why are bars and restaurants singled out?
Public health officials, including the nation's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, have pointed to bars as worrisome spots for the potential spread of COVID-19.
"Congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news," Fauci told a U.S. Senate panel last month. "We really have got to stop that."
When North Carolina reopened its restaurants at half-capacity in May, it kept bars closed, which some bars challenged unsuccessfully in court.
On Tuesday, Cooper mentioned recent spikes in Texas and said outbreaks in other states reinforce his decision to keep bars closed. The new curfew seems to not only keep bars closed, but cuts down on bar-like behavior, as restaurants serve more drinks than food late in the evenings.
"Public health experts and examples from other states show that bars and other places where people gather closely together are a high transmission setting for this virus," Cooper said Tuesday.
They also tend to attract young people, who will be returning to college campuses in the coming weeks from across the country, Cooper said.
"We have seen case numbers increase among younger people, and prevention is critical to slowing the spread of the virus," Cooper said.
Why 11 p.m.?
Most restaurants continue serving food until 9:30 or 10 p.m., if not later. Cooper said the state picked 11 p.m. as the curfew to keep food service normal, but cut out late night drinking.
"We wanted to make sure the restaurant part of the evening would be over and discourage the bar scene after 11 o'clock," Cooper said.
What are other states doing?
North Carolina's alcohol curfew follows several other states. So far, according to local reporting, Alabama, Colorado, South Carolina and Washington are among the states cutting off sales at either 10 or 11 p.m.
In Virginia, only the Hampton Roads region is restricted, according to reporting in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, with restaurants stopping alcohol service at 10 p.m.
What's the difference between a bar and a restaurant?
The simplest answer is food. Restaurants serve food and bars do not. But North Carolina's alcohol laws are no simple matter.
Last month, North Carolina's Alcohol Law Enforcement agency shut down several Raleigh bars after opening for service one Friday night. Representatives from those bars said they believed they had served enough food in the past to qualify for reopening.
What happens if a restaurant continues serving drinks after 11 p.m.?
On Tuesday, Cooper said authorities would enforce the new curfew. Like other executive orders, violating this one is a Class 2 misdemeanor.