Guests have been back on the Outer Banks since May 16, and local businesses are working hard to accommodate them. For the most part, things are going well, but the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Dare County is increasing daily. 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 still different than life as usual. Protocols are in place at restaurants, shops, attractions and accommodations. Here are some of the latest operating procedures that apply to visitors. For the full list of North Carolina Phase 2 regulations, click here.
Photo: Retail and restaurant workers like Outer Banks Brewing Station Head Chef Tony Duman are required to wear masks.
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 cloth covering over your nose and mouth. North Carolina mandates that a face covering must be worn indoors and 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.
North Carolina is in Phase 2 of COVID-19 guidelines, which maintains that people are Safer at Home but still allows for reviving the economy while protecting public health.
Phase 2 limits indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people. The mass gathering limit includes fairs, festivals and parades, but does not include restaurants, retail stores, pools, child care and day camps, all of which have a specific set of limits.
Photo: New outdoor dining options, such as the new outdoor spaces at TRiO Restaurant and Market are popping up all over the Outer Banks.
Restaurants & Bars
With North Carolina in Phase 2 of its reopening strategy, Outer Banks restaurants are allowed to open their indoor dining rooms and bar to 50% capacity. Most restaurants are still offering take-out services to augment what would be 100% open, so please recognize that this new business model puts stress on staff and management. Many restaurants have added outdoor dining.
Phase 2 limits the number of people at one table to 10; 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 are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings when entering and exiting the restaurant and when walking to the restroom or cashier.
Bars that are not associated with restaurants are not allowed to be open in North Carolina.
The existing person-power available to continue take-out services as well as in-house dining is lower this year due to the virus, so please be patient. Many restaurants are requesting that any take-out orders be placed by early evening so that the staff can serve the people in-house as the most popular dinner hours roll around. Call well in advance to place your take-out order. Many will also request reservations if you're planning on coming to the restaurant 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. Bottom line: Be kind. Restaurant staffs are working very hard and really do want to make your experience with them a good one.
Most Outer Banks stores are welcoming shoppers back, but they are required to have no more than 50% capacity. Retail workers are required to wear masks. Shoppers must wear masks when social distancing cannot be maintained, but some stores require that shoppers wear a mask if they want to enter. Stores must post signs about social distancing and mark 6 feet of spacing in high traffic areas. 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. Movie theaters, the trampoline park and the bowling alley are still closed. You should always call ahead to the recreation operator of your choice to ask about their hours and options.
Pools: Indoor and outdoor pools (shared pools in commercial settings or residential complexes) can be open, but occupancy is limited and that occupancy must be posted.
Water Parks: H2OBX Water Park is not open in the summer of 2020.
Parks, 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 25 individuals.
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 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: National Park Service campgrounds and private campgrounds are open on the Outer Banks, providing safe socially distant accommodations.
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. Some restaurants that have a good-sized outdoor area, are offering live music to entertain their guests.
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.
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.