Cooper mandates statewide order for face coverings, phase two extension

Governor Roy Cooper speaks during a press briefing on the COVID-19 virus at the Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Photo via N.C. Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced an extension of the phase two reopening plan and a statewide mandate for face coverings through July 17.

The executive order, which takes effect on Friday, June 26 at 5 p.m., extends E.O. 141 and adds the face coverings requirement. Face coverings will be required in retail businesses, restaurants, personal care and child care facilities, in state government, mass transportation, meat and poultry processing plants, and most health care settings.

There are some exceptions, such as medical or behavioral disabilities, children under 11 years of age, eating or drinking, strenuously exercising, and giving a speech for broadcast to an audience.

“North Carolina is relying on the data and the science to lift restrictions responsibly, and right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends,” said Gov. Cooper. “We need to all work together so we can protect our families and neighbors, restore our economy, and get people back to work and our children back to school.”

The governor said that there were 1,721 new cases reported and 906 people in the hospital as of Wednesday. Cooper said that “today is the second highest day in both of those categories since the pandemic started.” As of June 24, there have been a total of 795,285 tests completed in the state. Those tests have produced 56,174 positive tests with 36,921 of those cases presumed to be recovered since March 15.

Hospitalizations have been increasing slightly over the last three weeks coinciding with George Floyd protests. The data on available ICU and regular beds provided by NCDHHS does not differentiate between COVID patients and non-COVID-patients.

Of the 1,271 COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina, 724 of those deaths have occurred in congregate living settings, such as a nursing home or assisted care facility. The daily number of deaths in the state has been decreasing since reaching a high of 30 in one day on May 25.  Those 65 and older make up 80% of the deaths and an additional 14% of deaths in individuals age 50 to 64.

The enforcement section of Cooper’s phase two extension order appears to place responsibility not on law enforcement, but on businesses and organizations for compliance.

According to one section of the order, law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the face coverings requirement, but businesses and organizations that fail to enforce the requirement can be given citations. In the same section, it then says that “Operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on their customers or patrons’ statements about whether or not they are excepted from the face covering requirements.” If a person claims one of the exceptions to wearing a mask as stated in the order, there is no penalty for not wearing one.

Section three says that if a business doesn’t allow entry to a person because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that person enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, that police can then enforce the trespassing laws and any other laws which that the worker, customer, or patron may violate.  Those penalties may mean a Class 2 Misdemeanor, which can involve between 1 to 60 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment and carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Cooper and Cohen were joined by Dennis Taylor, President of the North Carolina Nurses Association and Eugene A. Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health.

“Wearing a face covering is an easy thing to do that can make a huge impact for all of us” said Dennis Taylor, a nurse, and president of the North Carolina Nurses Association. “A major spike in cases would be catastrophic to the system, and without your cooperation, nurses and our fellow healthcare providers will have a harder time caring for sick patients for weeks and months to come.”

Eugene A. Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health said that “Medical science says to reduce the spread of COVID-19 masking works,” and that he hoped “all the people of North Carolina can join forces” on wearing masks.

During the question and answer portion of the briefing, a least two reporters asked Cooper about who’s to “blame” for the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers. The governor did not answer the question and later stated “We never were at a really high point, we just want to stop the steady increase.”

After the press conference, Cooper tweeted an image of himself wearing a mask.

“Right now, the data is showing that we need to hit the pause button on reopening. But if we all work together and wear face coverings, we can protect our loved ones and get our trends back in the right direction to restore our economy and beat this virus,” said Cooper’s tweet.

This is a developing story and will be updated.