Modified Stay At Home: Outer Banks COVID-19 Update as of December 9, 2020

By Molly Harrison | Thursday, November 12, 2020

As they are across the nation, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the State of North Carolina. COVID-19 cases continue to spread at an alarming rate in North Carolina, which has prompted N.C. Governor Roy Cooper to enact a Modified Stay at Home Order beginning Friday, December 11 until at least January 8, 2021. The new order establishes a state-wide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. People are required to stay home, and many businesses are required to close during those hours. See below for more details.

The Outer Banks is no exception to the statewide rise in COVID cases. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Dare County is rising, though as of now Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties are not among the state's red zones with the most dramatic rise in cases. Though visitation is naturally low during this time of year, it is expected that visitors will be arriving in town for the holidays. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen has asked that people avoid traveling and gathering this holiday season. Those who do travel, she says, should be tested before they travel, wear masks at all times, make gatherings as small as possible and keep events outdoors.

Most visitors understand that businesses are still under state mandates that regulate how many people can be in their restaurant/shop/venue at one time. Still, everyone is encouraged to remember that things are different than life as usual. Protocols are in place at restaurants, shops, attractions and accommodations. Here are some of the latest operating procedures. You can also click this link for the full list of North Carolina regulations.

Photo: Face coverings are the norm in Outer Banks public places, like here at the Outer Banks Brewing Station. Wear yours to protect yourself and others.

Practicing the 3 Ws

As with everywhere across the United States, everyone is encouraged to practice basic measures that slow the spread of the virus.

Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth. North Carolina mandates that a face covering must be worn in all public indoor settings, including fitness facilities and restaurants where non-household members are present, regardless of an ability to socially distance. Face coverings must be worn outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. The face covering must cover your nose and mouth.

Wait 6 feet apart from others and avoid close contact.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

Modified Stay at Home Order

As of Friday, December 11, North Carolina requires people to stay at home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and events or gatherings outside the home must end by 10 p.m. Most businesses must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except businesses that sell groceries, medication, healthcare supplies and fuel. The sale of alcohol for on-site consumption is prohibited from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

North Carolina currently restricts indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 50 people. 

Indoor gatherings and events not subject to the 10-person limit include worship, religious or spiritual gatherings; wedding ceremonies; funeral services; gatherings for work; and families of more than 10 that reside together. See the full list here

Restaurants & Bars

Outer Banks restaurants are allowed to open their indoor dining rooms and bars to 50% capacity. Most restaurants are still offering take-out services to augment what would be 100% open, so please recognize that this business model puts stress on staff and management. Restaurants must close by 10 p.m., but they can continue to serve take-out fare past 10 p.m. (leaving home past 10 p.m. to obtain food is permitted). Restaurants and bars cannot serve alcohol on-site between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., but they can sell alcohol after those hours for off-site consumption. 

Restaurant patrons are limited to 10 to a table; however, more than 10 may sit together if they are members of the same household. Tables and seats must be placed so that customers not in the same household are separated by 6 feet. All employees must wear face coverings. Diners must wear face coverings when entering and exiting the restaurant and when walking to the restroom or cashier.

Bars that are not associated with restaurants can operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less. Non-bar nightclubs and lounges can open if guests remain seated.

Retail Businesses

Outer Banks stores are required to have no more than 50% capacity. Retail workers are required to wear masks. Masks are mandatory. As with everywhere across America, grocery stores are not fully stocked with some items, especially paper products and often meats. If you're coming from out of town, consider bringing those from home when possible. Retail locations with more than 15,000 square feet of interior space must have a worker at each public entrance to enforce face-covering requirements.

Things to Do

So many of the Outer Banks’ things to do and attractions are outdoors, so as long as you practice social distancing and, we hope, wear a mask, you’ll have access to a lot of activity while you’re here. And with the cooler air now, these outdoor offerings are even more enjoyable. Tour operators, such as head boats, dolphin tours and other guided excursions such as wild horse tours, are operating but limiting capacity and requiring social distancing. Charter fishing boats are running.

Museums and Attractions: Museums and attractions like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island are allowed to open at 50% capacity. National Park Service welcome centers and museums are open, but the NPS lighthouses (Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island) remain closed for climbing. Currituck Beach Lighthouse is open for climbing. 

Indoor Entertainment: Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30% capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less. The Pioneer Theatre in Manteo is open, running classic movies nightly at 8 p.m. Masks are required.

Pools: Indoor pools (shared pools in commercial settings or residential complexes) can be open, but occupancy is limited to 50%.

Parks, Playgrounds, Trails and Beaches: Each group of people at a park, trail or beach must be limited so that the group, counted on its own, does not exceed the outdoor mass gathering limit of 50 individuals. Playgrounds are open. Masks are required if 6-foot distancing cannot be maintained.

Gyms and Indoor Fitness Facilities: Gyms and indoor exercise businesses such as yoga studios can be open at 30% capacity. Masks must be worn indoors.

Hotels, Motels, Inns and Campgrounds

Almost all of these accommodation options are open, but staffing is limited so some will not be operating at capacity. Most will request – and some will require – that you wear a mask while in common areas, so come prepared. If the property offers breakfast service, there will be changes in how it’s served to ensure a high degree of safety. Check-in and check-out times may change to allow more time for thorough cleaning between guests.

National Park Service campgrounds are open, and reservations and payments must be made online. Cape Point and Frisco campgrounds are closed. Oregon Inlet is open year-round, and Ocracoke will be open through the winter. Other area campgrounds are also open but limiting the number of guests.

Photo: National Park Service campgrounds at Oregon Inlet and Ocracoke and private campgrounds are open on the Outer Banks, providing safe socially distant accommodations.

Vacation Rentals

Outer Banks vacation rentals are welcoming guests. Many have instituted no-contact check-ins. Later check-in and earlier check-out times may be in place to allow more thorough cleaning between guests. Companies are urging renters to bring essential supplies with them such as paper products, cleaning supplies and meats since local grocery stores are often low in stock in those items. Social distancing on the beachfront is required – 6 feet from other parties.


With restrictions still in place limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people and outdoor ones to no more than 50, you can imagine that a lot of the daytime and nighttime events on the Outer Banks have had to either cancel or adapt. But we're all about adapting around here, given our history of hurricanes and flooding events that alter day-to-day life for periods of time. Some outdoor events where it's easy to social distance are still a go. Others, such as parades and oyster roasts, have had to take a year off. Some restaurants that have a good-sized outdoor area are offering live music to entertain their guests.

Know the Rules

State and local protocols change frequently, and Outer Banks This Week will keep you updated. Click here for the most recent N.C. mandates.

Be Patient!

Please keep in mind that with so many COVID procedures in place, the speed of service may not be what you're used to. Employees in the service industry are learning new procedures and adding cleaning protocols to their list of duties. Be patient and kind and, if possible, tip more than usual. Know that employers and employees are doing their best and they very much welcome your business. 

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.