Gov. Cooper’s latest mandate regarding masks has ‘a lot of teeth’ to it, attorney says


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new executive order that includes stricter requirements for wearing a mask went into effect Wednesday evening just as some families prepare to gather for Thanksgiving.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is now requiring people to wear masks in public indoor settings when they’re with people who don’t live in their household, regardless of how much distance people keep from one another.

The order requires people to wear masks at restaurants, only taking them off when they’re actively eating or drinking. People also have to wear them at gyms while they’re exercising.

“Our actions now will determine the fates of many,” Cooper said earlier in the week. “We don’t want to go backward, but we will if it’s necessary. The next seven to 14 days will tell us whether we are stemming the tide or whether we need to ratchet it up even more.”

The order also mandates large retail stores to have a person at the entrance who verifies that people are complying with the mask requirements and makes sure the store does not exceed occupancy limits.

Violating the executive order is considered a class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of 60 days in a jail and a $1,000 fine.

Cooper has asked local governments, especially those in harder-hit red and orange counties, to consider additional enforcement measures to try to ensure compliance.

A key change in the latest order is that it allows law enforcement to cite individual people for failing to wear a mask, not just businesses for failing to enforce the mask requirement.

“It’s a fairly big change. They’ve added a lot of teeth to this executive order,” said attorney Ben Whitley. “That is definitely an escalation from any of the orders that we’ve seen prior.”

Whitley noted enforcement likely will be different across the state. While Greensboro has instituted new fines that businesses could face for failing to comply with COVID-19 orders, leaders of several towns and cities in Wake, Durham and Orange counties have said they’re continuing to focus on education for now.

Guilford County, where Greensboro is, has been deemed a red county due to the rising caseload and impacts on hospitals. Wake, Durham, and Orange are yellow counties, where this is “significant” spread but not to the degree seen in red counties.

“We don’t know whether there will be constitutional challenges along the way. You see on the Internet people saying, ‘This is unconstitutional.’ Well, a judge has to decide whether it’s unconstitutional or not. And, that hasn’t happened and won’t happen unless the enforcement takes place and someone challenges that. And, I hope we don’t get to that point.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said she’s urging people to wear a mask any time they are indoors with other people who do not live with them. That includes when you invite other people into your home for Thanksgiving.

Tracy Horner, who lives in Raleigh, said she normally would have more than 20 people at her house for the holiday. This year, that’s been scaled back to eight. She said they’ll eat outside on Thursday, and the family will wear masks when they’re not eating. Her father is immunocompromised, so she said the family is trying to take as many precautions as they can.

“It was difficult. I mean, I’m sad. I miss everyone. It’s been months,” she said. “Family first. We have to make due the best we can.”

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