North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that the state will remain in Phase 2 of its reopening plan – the “Safer at Home” phase. Mostly, that meant things are staying as they have been the last five weeks or so, as we’ve attempted to get back to normal in the wake of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But one big change was added – face coverings or masks are now required in NC.
There’s a lot of misinformation out about what those face coverings or masks in NC are actually for, and what can be done about them. But we’re here to help by covering a few key points on what the new Executive Order actually does, and how it will impact you for the next several weeks. Remember though, the biggest thing is that coronavirus cases are on the rise in North Carolina, and more importantly, so are hospitalizations. Slowing those rates will be very important in the coming weeks.
1. Do we have to wear a face covering or masks all the time in NC?
If you’re in public, generally yes. Inside or outside, for the most part you should have one on if physical distancing of 6 feet isn’t possible. That means you’ll need one on in retail businesses, restaurants (when you’re not at your table), hair salons, day cares, public transportation and job sites. But there are some exceptions that we’ll get to shortly. Overall, you should just plan to have one on if you’re going out in public and social distancing won’t be an option. Especially indoors.
2. So when can I take the face coverings off?
The order allows for people with medical conditions (including breathing issues), children under 11 years old, anyone at home or in their car, or doing things like eating or drinking, to go without a mask. That’s a pretty broad range of stuff. So the big question would be, why bother? Again, similar to the “Stay at Home” order, the idea isn’t for this to be a “letter of the law” type of situation, but more a “spirit of the law” kind of thing. The more people who are wearing masks when in public, the lesser the spread of coronavirus infections. It’s just math really. Every small bit will help, if we’re all in this together.
3. Don’t I have to have an official mask to be protected?
While not all face coverings or masks are created equal, again, the idea here is that SOMETHING is better than nothing. But the order only requires you to have some sort of cloth face covering, at least. That can be a manufactured one you buy somewhere, or it could be something you improvise with, like a scarf or a shirt. Generally, the state wants you to save surgical masks and N95 respirators for health-care workers right now, so just doing something to help keep your face covered is the idea here. But remember to make sure you’re covering your nose and mouth with it. That’s the key. And also, wash them regularly so they aren’t holding on to germs for you.
4. Can I go for walks and exercise without a mask?
Absolutely! You’re encouraged to get out and exercise and enjoy the remaining days before the sun starts to bake us into oblivion. And you can do that without a mask on, so long as you’re able to keep 6 feet of distance from others.
5. Will I get arrested if I don’t wear a face covering?
Short answer, no. Again, this is designed to encourage all of us to do a little more to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Enforcement of this new Executive Order says that law enforcement may issue citations to businesses who do not enforce face covering requirements. And if a business is enforcing the requirement, and you refuse it without valid reason to, you could be cited with trespassing if the business asks you to leave and you don’t.
6. Without valid reason to? What does that mean?
Because there are a number of health-related reasons that you might not be able to wear a face covering, there are some exemptions allowed here. But they need to be valid. No, that doesn’t mean you have to show proof of your breathing disorder, or anything like that. The order actually specifically says you don’t have to and that we are relying on the honor system here. It’s incredibly damaging to our general system of laws if people just go around saying they have health issues when they don’t. So please don’t do that. If you don’t have a valid health reason not to wear a mask, it’s generally in your best interest to help out right now by wearing one.
7. Can I use that ADA flyer or card I’ve seen on Facebook to keep me from wearing a face covering?
No. No, you can’t. Because those aren’t real things. Those are no more valid than showing someone a spoon, or a coupon for 50 cents off sour cream, as your verification method. The ADA didn’t make those. And, more importantly, the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply here. First of all, as we already said, no proof is required. This is on the honor system. Second of all, ADA only requires that a business make reasonable accommodations to help a person with a valid medical disability, utilize their business. And there are exceptions to that when it comes to the health and safety of customers. This is why no shoes and no shirt rules are able to be enforced. This is the same thing.
Look, most businesses are going to do what they can to help you out if you truly can’t wear a mask for health reasons. And you don’t need a Facebook meme to support you on that. Just call and ask the business if you can order online, or do curbside pickup, etc. That’s all they have to do to not be violating any ADA rules for those with ACTUAL medical conditions.
Oh, and by the way, HIPAA doesn’t apply here either. That’s for medical facilities. That’s not relevant to the general public. Nobody is violating anybody’s privacy in a medical facility by asking you to wear a mask in public or at a business.
8. So, I’m refusing to wear a mask anyway. You can’t do anything about it.
While we strongly encourage everyone to wear a face covering right now, as it will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and get us all back to normal faster, and healthier, we get it’s a hot-button issue for some people. No, you’re not going to get arrested for not doing it. No, nothing dramatic is likely to happen to you for not doing it. But you should expect that if you want to enter a business, and you don’t have a mask on, you can – and probably will – be asked to leave. For those of you with actual medical conditions that ADA would apply to, just request nicely that businesses help you out to work around it, as you do have a valid condition. They will almost certainly be willing to. And if you don’t have a valid medical condition, you’re hurting the ability of those who do have them to get reasonable accommodations.
The idea behind all this is that we are in this together. The more we can do together, the better this will be for everyone. North Carolinians come together mightily in the face of many natural disasters or other challenges. And this should be no different. Stay safe everyone!