North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled a modified stay-at-home order on Tuesday that requires the state's roughly 10.5 million residents to remain off the streets between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The executive order set to take effect on Friday orders bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and personal care businesses closed by 10 p.m., though grocery chains and some retailers that sell groceries will be allowed to operate within the seven-hour window.
On-site alcohol sales at bars must end by 9 p.m.
Travel to and from work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. is still permitted, as is travel to get food, gas, medical care or social services.
Cooper hinted at further restrictions if spread does not slow.
“Let me be clear: We will do more if our trends do not improve,” the Democratic governor said at Tuesday's news conference. “That means additional actions involving indoor restaurant dining, entertainment facilities or shopping and retail capacity. None of us wants that."
The order will remain in effect until Jan. 8.
Cooper's directive aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus at a time when the state's hospitals face increased risk of being overrun.
For the sixth day in a row and 11 of the last 12 days, North Carolina has hit new highs in current COVID-related hospitalizations. Data posted on Tuesday from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows nearly 2,400 people are hospitalized due to coronavirus. This represents a doubling of hospitalizations over the last month.
Cases, the percentage of tests coming coming back positive and deaths are also sharply rising.
On Sunday, the state reported a single-day increase of more than 6,400 coronavirus cases, the highest daily uptick since the start of the pandemic. In seven of the last eight days, the share of tests coming back positive reached double digits. The positivity rate previously eclipsed 10% in April.
On Wednesday, the state reported a daily increase of 82 COVID-related deaths, which represents the highest daily count to date.
Since the pandemic hit North Carolina in March, more than 400,000 people have tested positive for the virus and 5,600 people have died.
“I'm very worried. This is a global pandemic," said Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's top public health official. "This virus is highly contagious and dangerous, but we can slow it down. Do not wait until it is you or your loved one who is sick with COVID to wear mask."
Cooper has long expressed openness to “going backward” in his reopening plans but has been reluctant in recent months to shutter businesses. On Tuesday, he said the tightening of restrictions was necessary as the state awaits its initial wave of 85,000 doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, which will be delivered first to vulnerable hospital workers.
“I know that news of effective and safe vaccines has given us all hope, but vaccines aren't here yet,” Cooper said. “We have to act now to save lives, safeguard our hospital capacity and preserve our economy.”