Cooper announces mask mandate, extends Phase 2
As North Carolina continues to see an increase in coronavirus cases, Gov. Roy Cooper in a press conference Wednesday afternoon announced that face coverings will be required for everyone who is out in public, whether indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing is not possible. He also said the state would remain in Phase 2 for another three weeks.
The order that moved the state into Phase 2 on May 22 was scheduled to expire on Friday. It has been extended until July 17. The mask requirement takes effect Friday at 5 p.m.
Masks are required for all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agricultural settings.
He said exceptions include people with medical conditions and children under 11, people at home, and people who are outside and not within six feet of others.
“Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus while protecting ourselves, our families and the people around us,” Cooper said.
Several municipalities, including Raleigh, Durham and Montgomery County, which issued a state of emergency June 23, already require the use of masks or face coverings.
“We’re taking this pause right now to level out our numbers before we move further,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he was concerned with the prolonged rise in cases.
“Our cautious approach is like a dimmer switch, rather than an on/off switch,” he said. “Over the past weeks and months, even as we’ve slowly turned the dimmer switch up and eased restrictions, we’ve seen community spread of the virus increase in North Carolina.”
On Wednesday, there were 1,721 new cases, among the highest one-day totals since the pandemic began in mid-March. The state also reached its second-highest reported daily number of patients hospitalized at 906. North Carolina has 56,174 cases, with 1,271 deaths.
Stanly County, which currently has 294 cumulative cases including 118 which are active, has seen a 44 percent increase in cases since last Friday, when the county only had 204 cases.
North Carolina is averaging more than 17,000 tests a day for the past week and there are more than 500 sites listed online plus additional pop-up sites, Cooper said.
He noted that a lot of people have been intentionally not wearing masks and properly social distancing which has allowed the virus to spread even faster across the state. He hopes people will take more accountability for wearing masks and protecting others with the mandate.
“I urge everyone to be a leader in wearing face coverings,” Cooper said. “I encourage businesses to be strong in enforcing it. Slowing the spread helps our economy, and these face coverings do that.”
While people may feel confident they can survive the coronavirus, Cooper said the masks “are to protect others you come in contact with.”
He stressed that wearing masks don’t hurt the economy but “in fact help our economy by making it safer to shop, do business and keep our small businesses running.”
He said law enforcement can cite businesses for violation of the state mask mandate, but didn’t specify about what would happen if individuals go without masks.
County Manager Andy Lucas said he didn’t think a statewide mask requirement was necessary as long as people continued to properly social distance. He feels confident that in a rural county like Stanly people can maintain at least six feet of distance when out in public with others.
Lucas acknowledged the state was naturally going to see an increase in cases during the past few weeks with people gathering for Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer, along with more businesses and restaurants opening up.
While the increase in coronavirus cases concerns Lucas, he said the more people that recover “gets us closer and closer to herd immunity.”
Matthew Swain, chairman of the county commissioners, said the decision about whether to wear a mask should be the decision of each person and not a state requirement. Swain contracted the virus a few months ago but has recovered.
“If you choose not to wear a mask you run a very high risk of getting the virus,” he said. “If you choose to wear a mask then you can protect yourself, but then there’s also research that shows that if you wear a mask all the time you’re also susceptible to other health problems.”