Watch: Governor Roy Cooper announces an extension of the state’s phase two economic reopenings and a requirement to wear face masks in public places.
RALEIGH — Governor Roy Cooper announced an executive order to require all North Carolinians to wear face masks in public places while pausing the state’s phase two economic reopenings for three additional weeks.
Cooper’s executive order goes into effect on Friday at 5 p.m. and will remain in effect until at least 5 p.m. on Friday, July 17.
During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, he said the effectiveness of face masks to slow communal spread, revealed by medical science and data, “is overwhelming.”
With the issuance of the order, face masks are required in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of at least six feet is not possible, unless an individual is with family members or people in the same residence.
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Cooper said there were 1,721 new cases reported Wednesday, as well as 906 people admitted to hospitals throughout the state — the second-highest daily numbers in both categories since the pandemic started. There were also 20 additional deaths reported Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,271 Covid-related deaths.
“North Carolina has been careful in lifting Covid-19 restrictions. And it’s because public health experts warned that removing restrictions too fast or all at once can cause a dangerous spike in the virus that would overwhelm our medical system,” Cooper said.
Even as the state gradually eased restrictions over the past weeks, experts have seen an increase in community spread of the coronavirus, according to the governor.
“Daily case counts have gone up; the percent of tests returning positive has stayed high. Since May 19, the number of people hospitalized has increased 56%, from being in the five hundreds to now over 900 in just little over a month,” he said. “Doctors and health care experts have warned that hospital capacity can be overwhelmed in the blink of an eye. And once we see that capacity is gone, it can be too late to reverse the tide.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, shared metrics the governor’s office analyzed before making the decision to extend its phase two and require face masks in public places. The order will expire on July 17.
According to Cohen, the state is averaging more than 17,000 tests a day the past week while hospitalizations are rising.
“Hospitals still have capacity, but the fact that this metric has increased for more than a month is concerning,” Cohen said.
“The numbers we see are a stark warning, and we must pay attention,” Cooper said following Cohen’s presentation on the upward trends of key metrics, including the trajectory of Covid-like syndromic cases and the trajectory of total cases.
Earlier, Cooper noted the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who testified before lawmakers on Tuesday that North Carolina risks an “insidious increase in community spread” in coming weeks.
“[The spread] will be much more difficult to contain as community spread amplifies itself,” the governor quoted Dr. Fauci as saying during Tuesday’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “He cautioned that leaders in our state have to act to blunt the surge of cases. He also testified that the next couple of weeks are critical for our country in the fight against Covid-19.”
Unless state and local leaders take action to weaken the surge of Covid-19 cases in the state, it will be increasingly difficult to slow the spread, according to Fauci.
Cooper said face masks are required for all retail employees, restaurant workers, and workers in plants and factories. The face mask requirement will have several exceptions, including:
- Children under 11
- Those eating, drinking, or doing strenuous excercise,
- Anyone communicating with hearing impaired in which mouth visibility is required
- Someone giving a speech or broadcast to an audience
- Those working at home
- Those driving/riding in personal vehicle
- Operating equipment or vehicles where the mask impedes visibility
When asked how the face mask restriction would be enforced on businesses and consumers, Cooper said law enforcement officers will be able to issue violations against businesses whose employees are not wearing face masks, or against customers who refuse business’ requirements to wear them. In the latter scenario, Cooper said officers can issue violations based on trespassing laws to ensure the protection of employees.
Cooper said that the decision to require face masks was influenced by additional studies published in the past week, including one from the University of North Carolina. Before today, the state had strongly recommended face masks in public places.
This article will be updated with more information.