RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With North Carolina’s COVID-19 trends moving in the wrong direction, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Department of Public Safety reached out to local leaders, asking them to help slow the spread of the virus.

NCDHHS reached out to leaders in 36 counties including eight in the CBS 17 viewing area, asking them to promote the three W’s (Wear, Wait, Wash) and consider local actions to improve compliance with executive orders. 

County leaders are encouraged to adopt ordinances that fine businesses for not enforcing the state’s mask requirement, lower mass gathering limits, put an earlier curfew on the sale of alcohol, consider closing bars and nightclubs, and limit restaurant services.

The counties in central North Carolina include Wake, Moore, Johnston, Edgecombe, Wayne, Cumberland, Nash and Hoke.

The letter was sent to counties that met the following metrics: the county has had 300 or more new cases in the last 14 days and has been identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern; the rate of cases is greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people; or the county is one of the three most populous in the state.

CBS 17 reached out to all eight counties to see if they plan on following those recommendations. The Johnston County Manager said they will continue pushing people to practice the three W’s (Wear a face covering, Wash your hands, Wait six feet apart), but have no immediate plans to add more restrictions.

Wake County will do the same. In a statement to CBS17, Wake County Manager David Ellis said, “Wake County is committed to encouraging our 1.1 million residents to remain vigilant in their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as Dr. Cohen and Secretary Hooks requested in their memo. We’ll continue to use creative methods – like clean graffiti, social media advertising, videos, and media interviews – to remind the public to practice the 3Ws. In Wake County, our positive test rate sits at 4%, while the state is reporting a 6.1% positive test rate. We’re pleased that we haven’t seen the same spike in cases recently that other counties have. However, we strongly urge residents to continue washing their hands, wearing face coverings, and waiting six feet apart, so we can keep our rate low and slow the spread of the virus.”

The same goes for Wayne County. In a meeting with board commissioners on Tuesday, Wayne County Health Director, Dr. Brenda Weis said, “What we want to do is change the hearts and minds, because that seems a whole lot less disruptive to our economy and to our people than it is to go do enforcement. We want to incentivize rather than penalize.”

CBS 17 is waiting to hear back from the remaining five counties.

“The incredible work of our local partners has allowed North Carolina to avoid the first and second waves of rapid spikes in COVID-19 positives that devastated so many other states. To protect our communities, we must continue working together in this fight against COVID-19,” wrote NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D., and NCDPS Secretary Erik A. Hooks.

In addition to sharing resources to encourage people to wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash hands, the letter outlined local actions to consider that have less severe penalties for violating COVID-19 executive orders than what is available through the state-level emergency powers. The penalty for violating the state-level executive order is limited to criminal citations, which could result in imprisonment. City and county governments can create ordinances that carry more flexible consequences such as civil fines. Examples of local actions include:

  • Adopting an ordinance that imposes a civil penalty for violating its provisions.
  • Issuing a local Emergency Proclamation setting higher standards to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Supporting the local health director to issue and enforce an Imminent Hazard Abatement Order against entities whose actions, including failure to comply with the governor’s executive order, present an imminent hazard to your community.