CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced Monday he is signing an executive order aimed at strengthening the state’s mandate involving face masks.
Executive Order No. 180 goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 25, and runs through 5 p.m. Friday, December 11.
“I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” Governor Cooper said. “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many.”
“Our statewide mask requirement has been in effect since June and it is still our best weapon in this fight,” Cooper said during a press conference. “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.”
The governor says this means residents should even be wearing masks at home when friends or family are visiting. “It means a mask at work, at the gym, at the store, at school.”
Some of the biggest changes to the stricter mask guidelines affect businesses.
The order now requires people to wear a mask while they’re exercising, whether that’s inside or not, unless you are able to safely maintain at least six feet distance from others. If that is the case, you do not need to wear a face covering when exercising outdoors.
The order also says customers should wear them while at their table at a restaurant unless they are actively eating or drinking. Previous orders allowed for customers to keep them off if they were sitting down at the table.
Restaurant owners say it will be tough to enforce, they’re asking customers to willingly comply to hopefully make numbers go down.
“We have to follow the rules to stay open. It’s just best to follow the rules. We’re going to make sure you have the best time possible,” said Jeff Tonidandel, who owns Haberdish. “We don’t want to follow up with you. We don’t want to be policemen, that’s not why we signed up for the hospitality business.”
The order also “strengthens the role of businesses in ensuring masks are worn by everyone in the store - staff and customers - and that they are abiding by capacity limits so that people can stay distant and can stay safe, Cooper said.
The Order 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.
Local police departments may cite those not adhering to the mask mandate. In response, CMPD put out the following statement:
“The updated Order grants the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department the discretion to cite individual citizens for violation of the mask mandate. The CMPD will continue to manage COVID related complaints on a case by case basis.
“Every complaint is vetted for an appropriate response. The CMPD will continue to work to reach voluntary cooperation with each member of the community through education and conversations, only resorting to citations as a last-measure.
“This has been the CMPD’s approach to consistent enforcement of the Order, and it will remain so until the Order is rescinded. It’s encouraging to note that CMPD continues to receive a tremendous level of cooperation from the community, and we’re very grateful for the unified efforts during this time.
The order also modifies gathering limitations to ten people indoors, indoor bar closures, occupancy restrictions for retail stores, restaurants and other public businesses, extending these protections through December 11.
The news comes as N.C. continues to see rising hospitalizations due to the virus.
A week after rolling out North Carolina’s county alert map to identify the state’s “viral hotspots,” Gov. Roy Cooper said 10 additional counties were in the red zone, which indicates a critical state of community spread.
On Nov. 16, Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, unveiled the new county alert system, which is designed to identify the counties with the highest metrics.
Two weeks earlier and just days ahead of being it set to expire, Gov. Cooper announced that the state will remain paused in Phase 3 until Dec. 4.
As of Monday, North Carolina reported 339,194 coronavirus cases and 5,039 deaths. The daily percent positive was at 6.6 percent.
NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says the state’s trajectory of cases is up.
Cooper also announced that social, community and family gatherings have been reduced from 25 to 10 people.
“This reduction in the indoor gathering limit aims to slow the spread and bring down out numbers,” Cooper said. “It also brings a serious message to our families, friends and neighbors across the state. Success in slowing the spread will help our businesses.”
“Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and many North Carolinians are focused on how to celebrate the holiday amid the pandemic,” Cooper said on Nov. 10. “There will be the usual concerns about who is carving the turkey and whether you are going to talk about politics, but we need everyone focused on how to keep safe this holiday season.”
Cooper said that as the weather gets cooler, that will force more people inside, which will bring for more gatherings indoors.
According to health officials, indoor locations are where the virus can easily spread.
“Science shows that the transmission of this virus is much greater indoors,” Cooper said. “The more gathered indoors the easier this virus can spread. We saw increasing spread from social gatherings in October.”
Cooper said businesses struggling to pay rent and mortgage can apply for up to $20,000 assistance from the Department of Commerce.
The governor said the reduction of indoor gatherings does not affect churches or religious activities, nor does it impact schools.
Other exemptions include weddings, funerals, First Amendment activities, work meetings, gyms, restaurants, spas, museums, theaters, hotels, airports, bus, train, libraries and malls.
On Oct. 21, North Carolina “paused” Phase 3 for three weeks for the first time. With the growing trends, health leaders felt the need to extend it again on November 10.
Phase 3 is being extended “because several of our trends are moving in the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “These numbers are not where we want them to be.”
“As frustrating and as painful as it is, we must keep fighting a little while longer,” Cooper said. "We don’t want to let the last eight months of sacrifice go to waste by ignoring safety measures during family gatherings.
North Carolina first moved to Phase 3 of reopening at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2. The phase was initially set to last through Friday, Oct. 23.
“The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically and responsibly,” Cooper said, “And we must rely on North Carolinians taking personal responsibility to protect others by wearing masks and keeping their social distance.”
Cooper said that during Phase 3, the at-risk population is “still safer at home.” He urged anyone over 65 - and those with health risks - to take “responsibility in your choices.”
The following measures are to be followed under Phase 3:
- Face coverings are still mandatory for everybody over the age of 5.
- Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7% occupancy for spectators with other safety protocols.
- Smaller outdoor entertainment venues may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30% of capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less.
- Bars may operate outdoors only at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Outdoor amusement parks may open at 30% occupancy.
- The limits on mass gatherings will remain at 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
- The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars will be extended.
Cooper said, “Until we have a vaccine or a reliable cure, precautions like the 3 W’s are with us for a while. Our children can go back to school and our economy can fully rebuild when we’re safe, and people have confidence that they can stay healthy. Every careful step we make forward, and every time we wear a mask and keep our distance, we are helping to keep this disease at bay, and building a stronger North Carolina.”
Read the entire Phase 3 Executive Order below:
Several businesses were anxious for Phase 3, hoping they’ll finally be able to open their doors nearly seven months after they first closed. The list of closed businesses include movie theaters, event venues, theaters, concert venues and bars.
Bar owners expected to be able to open inside during Phase 3. Many of them don’t have enough patio spaces to reopen.
Some bar owners called out Governor Cooper for a double standard in his policy making.
Venues like Bank of America stadium, which has a capacity of more than 75,000, were included in the event venues permitted to open at the reduced capacity. Large entertainment venues are those that can seat over 10,000.
“We are excited to welcome some fans back to Bank of America Stadium beginning Oct. 4,” the Carolina Panthers said in a statement. “We have worked for months to develop and implement a responsible and comprehensive plan for the return of fans and we are confident that it will ensure that the game day experience is enjoyable and as safe as possible.”
Panthers officials say they will continue to follow guidelines provided by the CDC and local and state government, as well as the National Football League.
“With more things open and people moving around more, we need everyone to stay vigilant about wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing their hands often,” said Secretary Mandy Cohen. “Our progress is fragile and will take our continued hard to work to protect it.”
On September 4 at 5 p.m., the state moved into Phase 2.5. The phase expired at 5 p.m. on October 2. The phase allowed gyms and several other establishments to reopen, while loosening restrictions at places that were already operating. Gov. Roy Cooper cited stable coronavirus numbers as the reason the state moved into Phase 2.5.
Cooper announced that beginning on October 5, North Carolina elementary schools were able to open under “Plan A,” which allows all students and staff to return to school.
Schools are also still allowed the option of completely virtual learning, as laid out in N.C.'s “Plan C.”