A day after Gov. Roy Cooper announced that mask wearing in public will be mandatory in North Carolina starting at 5 p.m. today, Pasquotank County’s sheriff joined a number of other sheriffs in saying he doesn’t plan to cite those who violate the governor’s order.
Sheriff Tommy Wooten posted on the sheriff’s office Facebook page Thursday that his office does not plan to issue citations for violating the governor’s mask mandate.
“While we are aware of the Governor’s Order mandating masks when social distancing isn’t possible, we at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office will not be issuing citations for violations of Governor’s Order #147,” Wooten said in the post. “We do, however, encourage that you continue to wash your hands and social distance when possible.”
Wooten’s post noted individual businesses may choose to deny service to those who don’t wear masks.
“If we are contacted in reference to this, we will assist the business owner in removing the violator from the property,” Wooten said.
The sheriffs in at least four other counties — Halifax, Craven, Sampson and Burke — made similar announcements on their department’s Facebook page, according to media reports.
A number of businesspeople contacted Thursday said they were already requiring or strongly encouraging customers to wear masks or cloth face coverings before Cooper’s order. Cooper announced the order on Wednesday, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state. Cooper also said the state would not be moving into Phase 3 of his reopening plan for North Carolina for the same reason.
Health experts have said wearing a mask or face covering has proven effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious coronavirus that’s infected more than 2.5 million Americans, more than 53,000 of them in North Carolina, and caused more than 122,000 deaths, including 1,290 in North Carolina.
Michelle Torres, manager of the Shoe Dept. store at Southgate Park, said the company requires all employees to wear masks or cloth face coverings. But the company has not required customers to wear masks inside the store, she said.
“Some wear it and some don’t,” Torres said. “We can’t make anybody wear it.”
She said at an earlier point the store had a sign asking all customers to wear face coverings. But that sign is no longer posted.
Torres said she is aware of the governor’s order but has no plans right now to try and force customers to wear masks. She said she has not received any new guidance from either her store’s parent company or the state but will consider such guidance if she does get it.
Many local people are wearing masks or cloth face coverings as a matter of course.
Kellen Whitehurst, director of the Pasquotank County Library, was wearing a mask as he walked into Muddy’s coffee shop Thursday.
“I have a family, and studies show that it protects others,” Whitehurst said. “I don’t want to be the reason for somebody else being sick.”
Whitehurst said he believes the governor’s mandate is a good idea.
“Studies show that you can sharply reduce the risk by wearing the mask,” he said.
Debbie Malenfant, executive director of Elizabeth City Downtown, who was seated inside Muddy’s said she has not heard concerns from any business owners about complying with the new mandate. Local businesses and customers alike try to be cooperative in dealing with difficult situations, she said.
Malenfant also doesn’t expect customers at local businesses will be confrontational about wearing masks. Those not willing to wear one will probably just turn around and walk away if a store requires them to, she said.
Neal Godfrey was sitting with his brother, Wonnell Godfrey, and their uncle Bill Bailey at a picnic table in Waterfront Park. Although he wasn’t wearing a mask, Godfrey said “when I go in any kind of business I wear it.”
“I think everybody should wear them going into businesses,” Godfrey said. “I make sure I have mine on.”
Bill Bailey, who is the Godfreys’ uncle, was wearing a cloth mask.
“I wear it because I want to stay here,” said Bailey, who volunteered that he’s 88 years old. “I’m not ready to go yet.”
Bailey said he believes wearing the mask helps slow the spread of COVID-19. He said he supports Cooper’s order.
Wonnell Godfrey said he, too, believes masks help stop the spread of the disease. He thinks everyone should wear them in businesses and other indoor spaces where they are around other people.
Cooper’s mask-wearing order grants several exceptions, including to those who have a medical condition or disability, children younger than 11, people who are actively eating or drinking, those who are exercising strenuously, those for whom wearing a mask poses any kind of safety risk, and children whose parent or guardian has been unable to place the covering safely on their face.
“Anyone who declines to wear a face covering for these reasons should not be required to produce documentation or any other proof of a condition,” the order states, adding children younger than 2 should not wear a face covering.