Outer Banks COVID-19 Update as of March 24, 2021

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, March 24, 2021

With North Carolina’s COVID numbers continuing to show improvement and vaccine distribution increasing, Governor Roy Cooper has eased more of the state's COVID-19 restrictions. Executive Order 204, which takes effect Friday, March 26 at 5 p.m., eases capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars, hotels and event venues, increases the mass gathering limit to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors and lifts the curfew on the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption. Still, the governor encourages people to remain cautious and on guard and continue practicing the three Ws.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Dare County is also declining. However, everyone on the Outer Banks should still plan to wear masks when in public at all times, stay 6 feet away from others not in their family, make gatherings as small as possible and keep events outdoors.

Some businesses are still under state mandates that regulate how many people can be in their restaurant/shop/venue at one time. Museums, aquariums, retail shops and salons can operate at 100% capacity. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, pools and amusement parks can operate at 75%. Bars, conference centers, reception venues and performance venues can operate at 50% capacity. Here are some of the protocols that you can expect. 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.


North Carolina currently restricts indoor gatherings to no more than 50 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 100 people. Indoor gatherings and events not subject to the limit include worship, religious or spiritual gatherings; wedding ceremonies; funeral services; gatherings for work; and families that reside together. See the full list here

Museums, aquariums, retail shops and salons can operate at 100% capacity. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, pools and amusement parks can operate at 75%. Bars, conference centers, reception venues and performance venues can operate at 50% capacity. 

Restaurants & Bars

The big news is that restaurants and bars can now serve alcohol without a curfew. Outer Banks restaurants are allowed to open their indoor dining rooms and bars to 75% capacity, while establishments considered bars only have a maximum capacity limit of 50%. Restaurants and bars can serve alcohol until 2 a.m. and can continue to sell alcohol for off-site consumption. 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. 

Retail Businesses

Outer Banks stores can now operate at 100% capacity. Retail workers and customers are required to wear masks. 

Things to Do

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 several activities while you’re here. Charter fishing boats are running.

Museums and Attractions: Museums and attractions like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island are allowed to open at 100% capacity. 

Indoor Entertainment: Movie theaters may open indoor spaces to 50% capacity. Outer Banks movie theaters, the bowling alley, the trampoline park and other such places are open. Masks are required.

Pools: Indoor pools (shared pools in commercial settings or residential complexes) can be open, but occupancy is limited to 75%.

Parks, Playgrounds, Trails and Beaches: 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 75% capacity. Masks must be worn indoors.

Hotels, Motels, Inns and Campgrounds

Many 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.

The National Park Service campgrounds at Oregon Inlet and Ocracoke are open, and reservations and payments must be made online. 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.


With restrictions still in place limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 50 people and outdoor ones to no more than 100, 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 safe and have fun!

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. 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.