Gov. Roy Cooper announces new executive order imposing stricter face covering requirement

Gov. Roy Cooper at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper announced a new executive order which would enact a stricter face covering requirement.

“Our statewide mask requirement has been in effect since June and it is still our best weapon in this fight. Today’s executive order will further tighten that mandate, making it clear that everyone needs to wear a mask whenever you are with someone you don’t live with,” said Cooper at Monday’s media availability from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh.

Executive Order 180 goes into effect on Wednesday, Nov. 25, and runs through Friday, Dec. 11.

“I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” said Gov. Cooper. “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many.”

In addition, the order adds the mask requirement to several additional settings including any public indoor space even when maintaining 6 feet of distance; gyms even when exercising; all schools public and private; and all public or private transportation when traveling with people outside of the household. It also requires large retail businesses with more than 15,000 square feet to have an employee stationed near entrances ensuring mask-wearing and implementing occupancy limits for patrons who enter.

The order updates the requirement in public places, saying face coverings must be worn indoors whenever someone is with non-household members and also outdoors if it is not possible to consistently be physically distant by more than six feet from non-­household members. The requirements also apply to anyone at least five years old, unless an exception applies, and are recommended for anyone over the age of two years old.

The order also says face coverings must be worn by children in school “at all times.” Most schools have built-in mask breaks and it is unclear at this time if this order overrides those breaks. Also, the order has repercussions for recess, by forcing mask-wearing outdoors when six-foot distancing cannot happen.

In response to a question from a reporter, Cooper said the mandate would place a greater burden on businesses and retailers to enforce the mask mandate.

“You should be wearing a mask whenever you’re around anyone not in your household,” added N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

Another change the order makes is on exercise, requiring masks to be worn during strenuous activities indoors or outdoors unless the person is in their own home. The exemption for college and professional athletes, however, still applies.

The new mask order grants state and local law enforcement the authority to cite and fine individuals not wearing a mask in the settings specified by the order. It also permits law enforcement to “cite a business or organization that failed to enforce the requirement to wear Face Coverings.”

The section on enforcement goes even further, dictating that police have to be called and the person refusing to wear a mask or if that person refuses to leave. That business can be cited and the person can be charged with trespassing “any other laws that the worker or Guest may violate.”

“This Order is enforceable against individuals and businesses who do not follow the face covering requirements. Penalty for violating the Executive Order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or active punishment,” reads the FAQ for the new mask order.

Details of the order can be read here.

Using a weekly chart of the state’s COVID-19 cases plotted after Cooper’s first mask mandate, the claim made by Cooper during the gubernatorial race debate that the mandate “leveled off” cases is untrue given the continued to rise and fall of cases.  During COVID briefings, the governor blamed the public and cited “complacency” by citizenry for the increased case count.

This is a developing story and will be updated.