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Cooper: Face Masks Will Be Mandatory; NC Won't Move To Phase 3 Yet

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wears a face mask as he provides an update on COVID-19 in this file photo.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wears a face mask as he provides an update on COVID-19 in this file photo.

WFAE All Things Considered host Gwendolyn Glenn and WFAE health reporter Claire Donnelly break down Gov. Roy Cooper's decision to extend North Carolina's Phase 2 COVID-19 restrictions.

Gov. Roy Cooper says North Carolina will stay in its current phase of COVID-19 restrictions for three more weeks and that most residents will be required to wear face masks in public when social distancing isn't possible. 

Cooper's announcement comes as the number of cases of the coronavirus in the state continues to climb.

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, I've been clear that data and science would lead the way," Cooper said. "In following that standard, it's clear that our numbers will keep us from moving ahead to the next phase of easing restrictions. ... This is not where we planned to be or wanted to be." 

Cooper's announcement also comes as he faces mounting pressure to ease restrictions that have hampered the economy and left many workers reeling. More than 1 million people in the state have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. 

An executive order that begins at 5 p.m. Friday requires residents to wear face masks in most situations where social distancing of at least six feet isn't possible. That includes customers and employees at retailers and restaurants along with workers in manufacturing, meat-processing, agricultural and other industries. Folks with medical conditions that would be worsened by masks don't have to wear them, and neither do children younger than 11. 

"Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus while protecting ourselves, our families and other people," Cooper said. 

Cooper said law enforcement officers could give citations to businesses that fail to enforce mask requirements. 

Several local governments already made it mandatory that residents wear face masks. Raleigh and Greensboro already did so, and while Charlotte didn't, Mayor Vi Lylescalled on Cooper to make it a statewide requirement

The current level of restrictions — Phase 2 of 3 — had been scheduled to expire Friday, but North Carolina has seen a surge in cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday morning, 56,174 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed by laboratory testing in North Carolina, including 1,721 since Tuesday. At least 1,271 people in the state have died from COVID-19 complications, and 906 people were hospitalized for treatment of the virus on Wednesday. 

On Monday -- the most recent day for which recovery estimates are available -- state health officials said it was likely that 36,921 people had recovered from COVID-19. That's about 69% of confirmed infections at the time. 

But also Monday, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen described COVID-19 trends in North Carolina as moving in "the wrong direction" because hospitalizations were increasing the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus have been high in recent weeks. 

As of Wednesday, 791,285 tests had been completed in the state. Of the 17,457 completed Tuesday, 8% came back positive. That number hasn't dipped below 8% since May 27. 

Cohen said Wednesday that the state had enough hospital capacity but that she was wary about numbers in the future. 

The Charlotte region has more confirmed cases of the virus than any other area of the Carolinas, though it's also the most heavily populated metro area. As of Wednesday morning, the state was reporting 9,333 confirmed cases of the virus and 140 deaths in Mecklenburg County alone. 

When North Carolina's COVID-19 restrictions reached their height in March and April, dine-in service at restaurants was stopped, most gatherings were effectively banned and businesses that were deemed essential had capacity limits. Those restrictions began to ease toward the end of April as the state entered the first phase of Cooper's three-part reopening plan.

The state entered its second phase on May 22, but it was more limited than initially planned. While restaurants and some high-contact services like hair salons were allowed to reopen for in-person service with safety restrictions, other businesses like gyms and bars had to stay closed. 

Cooper said Wednesday that the state could move into Phase 3 on July 17. 

Eugene Woods, CEO of Charlotte-based Atrium Health, said more than 1 million masks will be donated to underserved communities. 

You can read more details about Wednesday's executive order here.

Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.

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Copyright 2020 WFAE

Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia and the Gaston Gazette in Gastonia.
Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.
Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
Michael Falero is a radio producer and Charlotte native. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he worked as a producer for a number of local news podcasts based in Charlotte and Boston. He's a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop intensive on Cape Cod and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied global studies. His work has also aired on PRX Remix and WCAI.