Sample COVID ordinance language severely restricts gatherings, alcohol sales

Fines suggested could top $1,000 with additional fines added for non-payment

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via Robert Clark, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Suggested sample COVID-19 related ordinance language disseminated earlier this week by Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration and the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services would severely restrict gatherings and on-site alcohol consumption in restaurant establishments.

On Oct. 21, a letter was sent to 36 counties by N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) secretary Mandy Cohen and Dept. of Public Safety secretary Erik Hooks. The letter urges county officials to consider creating ordinances that would “include restrictions imposing a higher State of Emergency standard than those included in the Governor’s most recent Executive Order.”

The same day  Cohen’s letter went out, Cooper held a COVID-19 briefing announcing Phase 3 would be extended until Nov. 13.

The Oct. 21 letter also asks counties to “adopt an ordinance that imposes a civil penalty or fine.”  Accompanying Cohen and Hooks’ letter were two suggested sample ordinance drafts.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest took to social media to call out the draft ordinances, tweeting “On top of encouraging municipalities to increase restrictions and penalties on citizens/businesses, Gov. Cooper’s Administration is now sending draft language to expedite local shutdowns/orders that would take cities/counties back to where NC was in March….”

The language included in the sample ordinances suggests allowing only “ten (10) people indoors or more than twenty-five (25) people outdoors at the same time in a single confined indoor or outdoor space.” The sample ordinance says this would include “parades, fairs, and festivals.”

This language is nearly identical to that of Executive Order 141, which announced Phase 2 restrictions.

For mass gatherings, the sample ordinance lists a series of fines and penalties. The suggested language for these violations is that they would be on a 1-year rolling basis that is apparently fixed to the date of the first violation.  The sample ordinance suggested escalating penalties that range from $200 for the first violation through $1,000 for the fourth violation. To add to the total, failure to pay a penalty would be an additional $50 charge.

The violations could become quite numerous depending on how many officers show up to a specific location.

“Each separate time that an officer responds to the same location to assess a violation of Executive Order shall be a separate and distinct offense and shall give rise to a separate and distinct penalty,” the sample ordinance reads.

On alcoholic beverage sale and on-site consumption, the sample ordinance suggests a curfew of 9 p.m. The current curfew is 11 p.m. The penalties associated with the suggested alcohol curfew mirror that of the mass gathering penalties.

The suggested language is overly broad as to what entities the curfew would cover, stating “any businesses or organizations that sell or serve alcoholic beverages.”

Such a shift would likely be the end to a large number of bars, taverns and restaurants which have already been struggling to survive for the last eight to nine months under Cooper’s pandemic restrictions.

The following counties received the NCDHHS letter: Alamance, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Chowan, Cleveland, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gaston, Graham, Greene, Guilford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Union, Wake, Watauga and Wayne.

House Speaker Tim Moore represents Cleveland County, one of those named in Cohen and Hook’s letter. When asked about the letter and sample ordinances,  Moore’s office told North State Journal that “the governor should submit his emergency proposals to the Council of State for approval, just as he did at the beginning of the pandemic before ignoring their input.” Moore’s office cited Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 105 as further preventing the Council of State from being able to give input on such matters.

Moore’s office said that “consulting with all statewide elected executive offices on emergency orders, just as the Governor did originally, is a better approach than this letter to already overwhelmed local communities.”

Gaston County Commissioner Tracey Philbeck says his county is “absolutely not,” looking to increase any restrictions. He said that he thinks the statistics and data are clear that lockdowns and shutdowns have done absolutely nothing to stop the spread of the virus.

Newsweek had an article here recently that compared states that didn’t lock down versus the ones that did and there was no difference when it came to spread,” said Philbeck. He added that North Carolina’s numbers increased while the governor had the state locked down.

“I think the governor, in my opinion, failed,” Philbeck said. “To put it bluntly, it’s an abject failure of leadership.”

Philbeck said that the governor wasted a lot of time shutting down businesses and houses of worship and dictating to people what they can and can’t do. He says that the data suggests that Cooper’s approach “has not worked.”

According to the JoCoReport, Johnston County Commissioner Chairman Ted Godwin has indicated that the county won’t enact any new ordinances to impose a civil penalty for anyone violation provisions of the governor’s executive orders related to COVID-19.

About A.P. Dillon 1133 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_