CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County announced new business restrictions Wednesday. Under the new guidelines which go into effect Thursday, July 23, restaurants and private clubs that sell alcohol must stop serving alcoholic drinks at 11 p.m. Those establishments can continue to serve drive-thru, pick up and delivery after that time.
The restrictions, which will be in place as long as North Carolina remains in Phase 2, apply to businesses in the city of Charlotte as well as the towns of Davidson, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville. The towns of Cornelius and Huntersville are not participating.
The restrictions do not apply to restaurants that do not sell alcohol.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say the new restrictions will help put a stop to large crowd gatherings where patrons aren't wearing masks and social distancing is difficult.
"This is just moving the hours back so that we can kind of get a hold on the lack of social distancing,” said CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes, “and quite frankly in my opinion, irresponsible business operations by some businesses here in the county."
The business restrictions outlined in the proclamation include:
- Restaurants serving only food and non-alcoholic beverages may continue to operate during advertised hours provided all requirements for social distancing and mask wearing are followed.
- Restaurants and private clubs serving food and alcohol shall be closed to onsite consumption of food and beverages and no customers shall be present for the onsite consumption of food and beverages between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
- Restaurants may continue drive through, delivery, and/or pick-up services after 11 p.m. so long as there is no onsite consumption of food and beverages.
- Restaurants, breweries, wine shops, private clubs, bars, and any other business or organization that are permitted to sell alcohol for onsite customers may not sell alcohol between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and no customers shall be present for onsite consumption of alcohol between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
- Restaurants, private clubs and other food and beverage service businesses may not provide onsite outdoor table service for the consumption of food or alcoholic beverages in Mecklenburg County, City of Charlotte, and the Towns of Davidson, Matthews, Mint Hill or Pineville between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
- No offsite table service for the consumption of food and beverages by restaurants, private clubs and other food and beverage service businesses between 11p.m. and 5 a.m.
- No sitting or standing at bars for food and beverage consumption at restaurants, bars or other food and beverage service businesses.
- Restaurants, private clubs, bars and other food and beverage service businesses should NOT allow customers and patrons to touch shared surfaces such as bar counters or game equipment like pool tables, darts, pinball machines, or any other such game equipment that requires social touching of the game equipment.
- All outdoor activities, gatherings, or events of more than twenty-five people are prohibited. (Worship services, religious and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and gatherings for health and safety, for work, to obtain food, or to obtain government services are exempt from this section.)
The restrictions do not apply to alcohol sold at convenience or grocery stores, wine and liquor stores, or retail business.
A similar measure was enacted in South Carolina in response to growing numbers of younger people falling ill with COVID-19.
The proposed restrictions have come as an added blow to some Queen City restaurants already struggling with the pandemic.
Matt Wohlfarth, the owner of Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, said the new rule would hit his bottom-line, but he understands the safety concerns.
"It's very hard for morale," Wohlfarth said. "There won't be profit after this."
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According to the latest data from Mecklenburg County Public Health on Wednesday, 17,782 county residents have tested positive for the virus and 186 have died.
Daily case increases and the positive test rate have remained relatively stable through the month of July, but hospitalizations continue to rise. The county reported a hospitalization record high Thursday.
As of Tuesday, North Carolina's Dept. of Health and Human Services reported Charlotte-region hospitals, which include those in Mecklenburg and 12 other surrounding counties, had 90% occupancy in ICU beds and 79% occupancy in inpatient beds.
DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen singled out the Charlotte area once again during Tuesday's North Carolina coronavirus update, noting concerns with the region's proximity to the South Carolina state line.
The Palmetto State has seen a faster acceleration in its coronavirus metrics recently.
"We've had reports of increased amounts of people coming from South Carolina into North Carolina to get treatment at some of the hospitals in the Charlotte area as well as testing," Cohen said.
While hospitalizations statewide are increasing, Cohen said capacity still remains and surge plans have not yet been necessary. However, she does not want North Carolina to end up like other states that are running out of beds.
"We don't want to boil over," Cohen said, noting the importance of following guidance on social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing in order to keep virus levels low and prevent a more dire situation.