Sunday, July 14, 2024

How will Wilmington-area law enforcement handle enforcing Cooper’s new mask mandate? [Free]

A waitress at Olde Salty in Carolina Beach takes an order on the first evening of dine-in service in two months as Memorial Day weekend began. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Governor Roy Cooper’s new mask mandate will likely create difficulty and confusion around enforcement, as has been the case with several previous executive orders. Still, recent research suggests widespread mask-wearing could help save lives and leave necessary capacity in hospitals as Covid-19 continues to spread.

Beginning Friday at 5 p.m., masks are required in North Carolina — but how will the new rule be enforced and who’s responsible for enforcing it?

The brunt of the new mandate’s enforcement actually falls on business owners and management rather than law enforcement. In fact, Executive Order 147, a three-week extension of phase two, specifically bans law enforcement from criminally enforcing the new face-covering requirement against individual customers, workers, or patrons.

However, law enforcement agencies can write citations to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the order on their customers or employees. Agencies may charge individual customers or workers with trespassing who have been asked to leave a business or organization for not wearing a mask and refusing to leave.

The order does address requiring masks in public spaces like beaches or public sidewalks but they are strongly encouraged virtually everywhere outside the home when social distancing is not possible.

At least three sheriffs in North Carolina do not intend to carry out the governor’s orders.

What the order covers

Either bought or improvised through household items, face coverings should ideally be comprised of two or more layers, according to the order. Children under two years old should not wear masks.

Masks are required for all adults both inside and outside of the following settings when they may be within 6 ft. of another person:

  • restaurants and retail
  • personal care businesses and longterm care facilities: (this requirement was already in place via Executive Order 141)
  • state government buildings
  • farms and meat plants
  • public or private transportation: required for all riders and drivers but a customer of public transportation cannot be denied service for failing to wear a mask
  • childcare facilities: applies to all adults and children 11 and order
  • healthcare facilities

The following circumstances are exempted from the mask requirement in the above settings:

  • Medical, behavioral, or other disabilities that would prevent safe mask-wearing
  • Children under 11 years old
  • Children whose parents are unable to secure masks on their face
  • Individuals actively eating or drinking
  • During strenuous exercise
  • While giving a speech or speaking to a hearing-impaired individual
  • While working from home or driving in a personal vehicle
  • While at work if wearing a mask creates a risk as determined by safety guidelines or if masks impair visibility while operating equipment

Local agencies

The governor’s order encourages local agencies to educate and ask for voluntary compliance with the new mask mandate.

“We would hope that everyone would adhere to the governor’s orders. But we’re more on a stance of education,” Lt. Jerry Brewer, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Thursday. But NHCSO will be forced to step in if they are called to respond to an individual who may refuse to leave a business because they aren’t wearing a mask.

“Once a business owner has told you to leave, you’re now trespassing,” Brewer said.

Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said his department will also emphasize education of the new rule.

“Our focus will be on education of the general public as well as the affected businesses.  Any businesses found in violation of the order could be charge with a misdemeanor, but that would be a last resort,” Evangelous wrote in an email Thursday.

A Class 2 misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, Evangelous added.

Busy dealing with a crisis making national headlines, a Wilmington Police Department spokesperson said they have not yet had the chance to review the new mandate.

In a Facebook post, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said it would not arrest people for not wearing a mask. “Side note reference Gov. Cooper’s latest executive order: Hey folks, this is new to us too and we are just as confused as you are. We suggest contacting Gov. Cooper’s Office with your questions. However, the Sheriff’s Office will NOT be arresting anyone for not wearing a face mask,” the post states.

BCSO’s spokesperson did not respond to a question asking whether it would issue businesses citations for failing to enforce the new mandate. In a separate post Thursday, Sheriff John Ingram appears to have addressed the question:

“It is unfortunate that the order leaves the burden of enforcement on the business owners and puts them in a position to have to make the determination on whether or not a patron is exempt from wearing a face covering or not. The order contains so many exceptions, it makes it extremely difficult. The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office will do what we can to support our citizens and businesses. What we don’t want to see is a business that is already suffering due to COVID-19, worry about being criminally charged if they allow patrons without masks to enter their establishment,” Ingram’s post states.

Though the order does not address public beaches, beach town agencies are still encouraging mask-wearing on the beach strand. Sunset Beach is asking all beachgoers to wear masks while not swimming, engaging with individuals outside their immediate group, or if they’re closer than 6 ft. in proximity with others. Oak Island is also asking beachgoers to wear masks on the beach strand.

Why now?

One of the governor’s office’s greatest concerns when it comes to Covid-19 trends is the rise in hospitalizations. The state continues to break its hospitalization record, peaking at 915 people hospitalized at once on Tuesday. That’s up 56% from last month, increasing at a weekly rate of approximately 14% statewide.

About one-quarter of all hospital beds are still available statewide.

Because each community is equipped with different resources and impacted by the virus differently, hospitalization capacity varies. In the greater Wilmington region, hospitals are expected to reach full capacity by mid-December if hospitalizations continue to rise at their current rate weekly (10%), according to a recent report.

The new order will remain in effect, unless otherwise extended, until July 17 at 5 p.m.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at

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