News: CJ Exclusives

Mask up or else, Cooper says

Gov. Roy Cooper (with state health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, background) at a July 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper (with state health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, background) at a July 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)

Gov. Roy Cooper in a new executive order is encouraging local authorities to pursue criminal and civil penalties against businesses that fail to uphold mask and distancing requirements.

The order, which runs through Dec. 11, further tightens mask mandates when people are around people who don’t live with them.

In schools, in stores, and at work. In our homes.

“The rules need to be enforced, and we’re working with state and local governments to do just that,” Cooper said in a news conference Monday, Nov. 23.

Though he says he’s reluctant to enact the financially shattering shutdowns and curfews becoming prevalent across the country, he did, however, threaten to “ratchet it up even more.”

Cooper intimated more lockdowns could come within the next couple of weeks. At least two reporters Monday asked Cooper why he isn’t levying more draconian suppressions, such as those from March.

“If we need to,” said Cooper, who hopes the latest order encourages compliance. He called the latest action a “call to arms.” 

Cooper used Greensboro as a dark example. Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who issued an emergency declaration in that city to reinforce Cooper’s executive order, also spoke during the news conference, as did Dr. Mandy Cohen, state health department secretary. 

Greensboro began enforcing the new rules Friday, including measures that would fine businesses $100 per person for every person who exceeds capacity limits. Greensboro’s order will be enacted against businesses that don’t comply, seemingly to the point that offending businesses effectively fail.

“We’re putting more responsibly on retailers to enforce the mask mandate in their stores,” Cooper said.

The governor in a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 17, announced the implementation of a County Alert System. It pinpoints counties with the highest levels of viral spread and offers specific recommendations to bring numbers down. 

Counties are coded as red, orange, and yellow, with red classified as “critical.” They’re assigned respective colors according to the rate of cases — the number of new cases in 14 days per 100,000 people — the percentage of positive cases, and impacts to hospitals. That last metric takes into account the number of hospitalizations, staffing, and available beds. 

Twenty counties are now in the red category. Cases are trending up, Cohen said, although the percentage of positive tests have increased just “slightly.” 

“We still have capacity, but hospitals are feeling the strain.”

North Carolina Health News asked if the state would consider relaxing occupational licensing limits, letting advanced-practice professionals including physician assistants and nurse practitioners perform to the full scope of their practice — performing many duties only medical doctors can handle under state law. Potentially easing crunches at stressed hospitals and urgent cares. 

Cohen basically ducked the question. She said the state would keep existing waivers in place but go no further. 

The message Monday was simple: Wear a mask. 

Cooper and Cohen, though, coupled this requirement with ominous rhetoric: Serious, dangerous. Shaky ground, and a test of our resolve. Stark warning, serious, and dangerous.

Cooper and Cohen warned against holiday travel and asked people to hold Thanksgiving dinners outside, and to keep gatherings small. The indoor limit is 10, Cooper’s edicts say.

“The more people wear a mask, the more the community is protected,” Cohen said.

Cooper on March 10 declared a state of emergency to combat the spread of the virus. He closed schools, gyms, hair and nail salons, spas, health clubs, and movie theaters. He has since reopened the state, albeit in truncated, uneven phases. He never stuck to his original three-phase plan.