Outer Banks COVID-19 Update as of May 20, 2020

By Beth P. Storie | Wednesday, May 20, 2020

As guests are streaming into the Outer Banks for vacations, everyone is encouraged to remember that things are going to be different when they get here. New protocols are in place at restaurants, shops, attractions and accommodations. Here are the latest operating procedures.


With North Carolina entering Phase 2 of their reopening strategy, Outer Banks restaurants will be allowed to open their dining rooms and bar to 50% capacity on Friday, May 22. It’s expected that most restaurants will still offer take-out services, but once diners begin coming in, even at the 50% level, the person-power available to continue delivery and curbside take-out will diminish. Many restaurants will also request that any take-out orders be placed by early evening so that the staff can serve the people in-house. Call well in advance to place your take-out order. Many will also request reservations so they can control occupancy. This will also diminish your potential wait times. If there is a wait at any restaurant, you will not be allowed to do that inside. And common courtesy will ask you to not linger over your meal so that the restaurant can serve as many people as possible.

Photo: The Dunes Restaurant



Most Outer Banks stores have already started welcoming shoppers back, but they are required to have no more than 50% capacity. Store owners/managers are allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to require you to wear a mask, so always be prepared. As with everywhere across America, grocery stores are not fully stocked with some items, especially paper products and often meats. Bring those from home when possible.

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. Most 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. Offshore boats are running. National Park Service welcome centers and lighthouses remain closed, but restrooms are open at NPS-controlled sites. Note that The Lost Colony outdoor drama has been canceled for the 2020 season. At this time, movie theaters are still closed. You should always call ahead to the recreation operator of your choice to ask about their hours and options.

Hotels, Motels, Inns and Campgrounds

Almost all of these accommodation options are open now, 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 operating with limited capacity, and all reservations and payments must be made online at recreation.gov. Staff will not be on-site to take payments. Other area campgrounds are also open but limiting the number of guests.

Photo: Camping in Cape Hatteras National Seashore


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 either out or very low in stock in those items. Social distancing on the beachfront is required – six 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 25, 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, such as fishing tournaments or kite flying extravaganzas on Jockey's Ridge, are still a go. Others, such as concerts or festivals, have had to take a year off. Still, there are still events to take part in. 

Stay Safe!

Everyone is asked to wear masks, maintain social distance of at least 6 feet apart with people not in your immediate family (even outdoors and at the beach) and wash your hands often. State and local protocols change frequently, and Outer Banks This Week will keep you updated.

Be Patient!

Please keep in mind that with so many new 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. Keep in mind also that staffing shortages are real on the Outer Banks this summer. In years past, many businesses have relied on international students to make up a good portion of their staff, but those students are not allowed to come to the Outer Banks this year. Know that employers and employees are doing their best and they very much welcome your business. 


About the Author Beth P. Storie
Beth Storie first came to the Outer Banks for the summer of 1976. She fell in love with the area and returned for good three years later. She and her husband published the national guidebook series, The Insiders' Guides, for more than 20 years and now are building OneBoat guides into another national brand. After spending time in many dozens of cities around the country, she absolutely believes that her hometown of Manteo is the best place on earth, especially when her two children, six cats and one dog are there too.