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Soon most North Carolinians will be able to safely remove their mask outdoors.

RALEIGH — North Carolinians will be allowed to assemble in larger groups and gather outdoors starting Friday without having to wear their masks.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday afternoon that the state will soon lift the outdoor mask mandate and boost mass gathering limits to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, which represents a doubling from the current levels.

The Democratic governor's moves comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces outside anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. Under some circumstances, unvaccinated people don't need to be masked outside, according to the CDC.

Cooper said masks will still be required indoors and he encouraged people to remain cautious.

“Masks will continue to be required indoors (and) in public places since this virus still can spread easily when we're inside," Cooper said. "Even though we're continuing our dimmer switch approach of easing restrictions, we need to stay vigilant.”

Cooper plans to eliminate social distancing and mass gathering restrictions by June 1 and eliminate the mask mandate altogether once at least two-thirds of North Carolina adults are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly half of adults in the state have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot and more than 39% are fully vaccinated, as of Tuesday, according to state health department data.

Mandy Cohen, the state's top public health official, did not provide a date of when she expects North Carolina to hit the two-thirds vaccinated threshold.

“When will that happen, though, is up to North Carolinians and how quickly people get vaccinated,” Cohen said.

State health officials expect to receive more than 222,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. The state also had about 132,000 single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines available, as of this past weekend.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed recently, with supply outpacing demand in many parts of the state. On the week of April 5, providers administered more than 246,000 first doses. Fewer than 85,000 people got first doses last week, which is the lowest weekly count since the end of December 2020.

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