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Cooper plans to lift gathering, distancing limits by June 1

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Wednesday that he plans to lift all mandates on social distancing and gathering limits by June 1 if coronavirus metrics remain stable and residents continue to get vaccinated.

Further restrictions, including the statewide mask mandate, could be halted once two-thirds of North Carolina have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine.

The Democratic governor said he thinks it will be hard to reach the two-thirds threshold by the end of May and anticipates the target being reached shortly thereafter.

More than 47% of adults have gotten at least one shot, and nearly 36% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Those who are 16 or 17 years old are able to get the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and are not classified as adults.

“With at least two-thirds of adults vaccinated, our public health experts believe we’ll have enough protection across our communities to live more safely with this virus and to begin to put the pandemic behind us,” Cooper said.

He also hinted at further easing of restrictions to come next week when he updates an executive order.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, said the state has continued to halt Johnson & Johnson vaccines until the federal government says it’s safe to proceed. In the meantime, North Carolina expects to receive more than 263,000 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Supply has started to outpace demand in certain parts of the state, and Cohen hopes to boost participation through an information campaign and a message of a swifter return to summer activities.

“We are at an exciting moment. We now have enough vaccine for everyone,” Cohen said. “Supply is strong and stable, it’s widely available and, in most places, you don’t need to wait or have an appointment.”

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