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Monday, May 20, 2024

Despite seemingly strict closure orders by Governor Cooper, stores can be open as county orders expire

Due to local and state orders, many businesses have been forced to close their doors, but many of the ones that have were not required to. (Port City Daily/Ben Schachtman)

NORTH CAROLINA — When Governor Roy Cooper announced Executive Order 121 which called for the closure of nonessential businesses, there was plenty of debate as to what could actually stay open. Of course, places like pharmacies and grocery stores were considered ‘essential’ and remained open. Other retailers, like clothing and sporting goods stores, closed their doors in order to remain in compliance since their wares were not included in Executive Order 121, which outlined what the state deemed to be essential and not.

As it turns out, these stores might not have been required to close, at least, according to the Governor’s orders. Local orders in New Hanover County did add additional restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19 which limited what could and could not be open.

With the notable exception of service industry businesses (restaurants, bars, tattoo parlors, hair and nail salons, etc.), Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 121 is fairly generous when it comes to ranking a business as essential or nonessential; in fact, the very first caveat to differentiate between the two types of businesses allows nearly every business the ability to stay open as essential.

That’s because it reads as follows:

“For purposes of this Executive Order, a COVID-19 Essential Business and Operation includes the following businesses, not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions.

  1. “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining SocialDistancing Requirements:
    a. Between and among its employees; and
    b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

That means that any business, regardless of the items sold, can remain open and be considered essential provided they follow social distancing requirements. Most businesses can likely maintain social distancing guidelines, but there are some who cannot, like tattoo shops and hair salons.

When local retail stores in the Cape Fear Region, like surf shops and other clothing retailers started to reopen for business, questions were asked as to the legality of their reopening. While the order does explicitly state as long as stores can maintain distancing they can remain open, many stores around the region closed.

That’s because while the state orders were somewhat more accepting as to what was an essential business, New Hanover County orders were more restrictive.

In an effort to see what exactly the governor’s order allows, Kelly Haight Connor Communications Manager for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reiterated the fact that if stores are not listed as specifically closed in the orders, they can remain open.

“For requirements for retail stores not specifically closed in Executive Order 121, please see page 4 of EO 121 [Section 2(C)(1)]; ‘Businesses that meet Social Distance Requirements.’ Businesses that can maintain social distancing requirements are essential, so long as they were not closed by previous executive orders … Note: If a local stay at home order is also in place, the stricter order should be followed,” Connor said.

In New Hanover County, officials have begun loosening their stricter regulations allowing marinas, clothing stores, communication stores, and more to open.

“‘Safety, security, clothing and communication’ have been added to the list of essential retail that can be open (the overall list now includes goods needed for health, sustenance, shelter, safety, security, communication, mobility, clothing and hygiene),” according to an announcement from April 13.

This means that these stores can now operate in the county without fear of repercussions from the police, but other stores that are deemed nonessential must remain closed, that is, at least until Wednesday.

That’s when the county orders are set to expire meaning only the state rules will apply to the unincorporated county (municipalities still have the option to extend their own orders).


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