Raleigh’s face mask requirement won’t apply for lawmakers at the General Assembly, House speaker says

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As Raleigh’s mayor and Gov. Roy Cooper (D) weigh new requirements on wearing masks, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) says the mandate will not apply at the General Assembly.

“The legislative complex is exempt from that as a legislative body,” he said. “I will often wear a mask on different occasions, but I don’t wear it to preside. So, I think it should be up to an individual’s choice to decide whether or not they’re going to wear a mask.”

The issue of wearing masks came up this week in a debate over a bill to reopen bowling alleys and skating rinks. That bill would require employees to wear masks. For customers, it would be “strongly encouraged.”

Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange/Caswell) chastised fellow lawmakers who choose not to wear masks on the House floor.

“Why are you not wearing a mask? Why are you putting me and all of us at risk?” he asked.

Meyer revealed his daughter was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. He said the two had not seen each other in over two weeks.

He told CBS 17, “We should (wear a mask) because we should be protecting each other. I don’t understand the bravado of, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna wear a mask because I’m tougher than that.’ I’m wearing this mask because I care about other people not because I’m trying to protect myself.”

During a House Health Committee meeting Wednesday, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said more research is showing that wearing a mask or face covering helps to prevent people from spreading COVID-19.

“It’s that double layer of protection. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s no risk. But, it definitely decreases risk a lot. And, that’s why we’re trying to recommend a low-cost, highly accessible intervention like a face covering,” said Cohen.

Speaker Moore said masks are available to House members and staff who ask for them.

“We have other protocols in place. As you know, we’ve been checking temperatures and other protocols. We also have nurses here that are checking if people are well,” he said.

The city’s mask requirement takes effect Friday at 4 p.m. In a document explaining how this will work, it states law enforcement “will educate and encourage voluntary compliance with this order.”

For the last several weeks, employees at the legislative complex have been taking people’s temperatures as they enter the buildings. That abruptly stopped this week with no explanation of why.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) wrote to Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble recently regarding her concerns with the lack of social distancing she’s seen at the legislature and noting that some employees are not wearing masks including when they were taking people’s temperatures.

In March, an employee in the cafeteria tested positive for COVID-19 after showing symptoms while at work.

In an email to Sen. Van Duyn obtained by CBS 17, Coble wrote, “We have taken the threat of the Coronavirus very seriously and there has been no disregard for anyone’s safety or health. We have enhanced our cleaning regimen not only on an increased daily basis but also on request whenever there has been any question about the possible spread. We have also purchased 2 electrostatic sprayers that allow us to clean spaces more thoroughly and more effectively. We clean meeting rooms and the chambers every night after sessions and often again the next day before a new round of meetings begins.”

He also wrote, “Unfortunately, I do not control the actions of members, Sgt. At Arms or guests in the building and they make their own decisions on whether they will wear masks or not. Given the mixed messages and confusion around the effectiveness of wearing masks, I have not required staff to use masks regularly but have told them that they should use them in meetings where others in attendance may feel uncomfortable. Once again, I cannot require members to wear masks in meetings and as you have observed, many choose not to do so.”

Coble did not reply to requests for comment from CBS 17 to explain why the temperature screenings have stopped.

Senate Democrats sent a letter Tuesday to Senate leader Phil Berger (R) calling the decision to end the screenings “alarming” and asking for “a public explanation.”

On Wednesday, Coble replied with a new letter saying the temperature checks would resume Monday, June 22.

“I made the decision to cease the temperature checks and move to a nurse-based model of care due to the fact that we have not had a single case of an elevated temperature reading during the past six weeks. However, I can appreciate your concern that the procedure provided an extra feeling of safety,” Coble wrote.

Democrats also criticized the decision to end socially distanced seating in the Senate and raised concerns about how closely people sit to one another during some committee meetings.

A spokesperson for Sen. Berger has not responded to a request for comment on those issues.

Sen. Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) said her husband is in a high-risk category for COVID-19, so his doctor advised her not see him in person until two weeks after the legislative session ends.

“It concerns me to the point that I am not comfortable going home on the weekends. And in fact, I have not been in my house since session started,” she said

She said she stays in an apartment above the garage when she returns home.

“If anyone here gets sick, not only is that tragic for the person who gets sick but it will send a huge message,” she said.

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