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Cooper tightens mask mandate with new order
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Cooper tightens mask mandate with new order

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As cases across the county and state tick up, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on Monday to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.

During a COVID-19 briefing Monday, Cooper called the latest virus updates “dire.”

"I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger," he said. "This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many."

Cooper’s order goes into effect Wednesday ahead of Thanksgiving and what is traditionally the largest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. The order runs through Friday, Dec. 11.

The order tightens mask requirements and enforcement at businesses.

The order reinforces that everyone needs to wear a mask when they are with someone who is not from their household. It adds a mask requirement for any public indoor space even when maintaining 6 feet of distance; gyms, even when exercising; all schools, public and private; and all public or private transportation when traveling with people outside of their household. The state says people can be denied entry to public transportation if they refuse to wear a mask. Retail businesses must have all workers and guests wear face coverings.

The order calls for patrons at restaurants to wear a mask at their table unless they are actively eating.  

The order also requires retail businesses with more than 15,000 square feet to have an employee stationed near entrances to ensure mask wearing and to implement occupancy limits for patrons who enter.

The mass gathering limit remains at 10 for indoor settings and 50 for outdoor settings.

Possible penalty

The penalty for violating the executive order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or active punishment.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday that 10 more counties have moved into the red category, indicating critical community spread. The state updated the COVID-19 alert system for counties Monday due to the rapid rise in cases and hospitalization over the past week.

Each county in the state is color coded yellow, orange or red on the state’s County COVID-19 Alert System.

Burke County is yellow, meaning there is significant spread. The alert system says the 14-day case rate per 100,000 people in Burke is 529.4, and the impact at hospitals is low.

Other counties around Burke are in red, meaning critical community spread. These include Avery, Mitchell, Catawba and Alexander. Caldwell County is orange, indicating substantial community spread.

The state says there are now 20 red and 42 orange counties.

Rebecca McLeod, director of the Burke County Health Department, said her department has been doing enforcement of the mask requirement, including, if needed, sending law enforcement to businesses that don’t comply.

Many businesses will comply when they have been contacted by county health officials, she said. It’s rare that health officials have had to revisit a business about complying with the mask requirements.

Cooper said the order is a call to arms for state residents to do what it necessary to keep virus cases low.

However, he said, he doesn’t want the state to go backward in its reopening, but it will, if necessary.

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