A day after Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of an “insidious increase in community spread” of the coronavirus, Governor Roy Cooper put the brakes on moving to the next phase of reopening and ordered a statewide mask mandate.
North Carolina has been in Phase Two since May 22, and this was the week that many bar owners and gym owners had hoped to hear their businesses would be next in line to open their doors.
But the governor told reporters Wednesday that key metrics do not support an easing of restrictions.
“Daily case counts have gone up. The percent of tests returning positive has stayed high,” explained Cooper. “Since May 19th the number of people hospitalized has increased 56 percent.”
The governor said requiring face coverings will cause zero harm, and could determine whether schools will be ready to reopen in just a few weeks.
The highly-anticipated announcement came with strong support from the medical community.
“The North Carolina Nurses Association endorses and fully supports the wearing of face coverings, social distancing, and frequent hand hygiene,” said NCNA President Dennis Taylor.
“Please trust this advice. It is not political. It is not an exaggeration.”
Atrium Health’s President and CEO Gene Woods said business partners including the Carolina Panthers, Bank of America, Lowes and Blue Cross Blue Shield are teaming up to donate one million masks to those in need.
“Medical science says to reduce the spread of COVID-19 masking works, and my sincere hope is that all the people of North Carolina can join forces to make wearing a mask not something we feel we have to do – but something that we want to do to keep each other, our neighbors, our children and our loved ones healthy and safe,” said Woods.
Several local municipalities have already implemented mask ordinances, including Raleigh, Knightdale, Southport, Greensboro with Winston-Salem making plans to act.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles took to social media Monday appealing to the governor to make facial coverings mandatory statewide:
Today, I asked the @NC_Governor for a statewide requirement to wear protective face masks in public. I support this for all of our citizens because it provides additional meaningful steps to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
— Mayor Vi Lyles (@CLTMayor) June 23, 2020
Law enforcement can cite a business for failing to enforce the new mask policy, and an individual could face trespassing charges for refusing to wear a mask in a business after being asked to do so.
Roughly eight percent of North Carolina’s COVID tests have come back positive this week.
The data also shows 81 percent of the inpatient hospital beds and 77 percent of the ICU beds are in use, and state health officials remain concerned that a surge could overwhelm the system.
Gov. Cooper said if the numbers show improvement, the state could allow fitness centers, parks and playgrounds to re-open around July 17th.
Recent modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that North Carolina will record 2,782 deaths from COVID-19 by October 1st if no changes are made. That would be more than double the 1,271 deaths from COVID the state has recorded since March.