While face masks will be required in most public areas across the state as of 5 p.m. today, enforcement of that mandate may be a problem.
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone already has gone on record saying he has no plans to enforce the mandate.
In a Facebook post issued Thursday, a spokesman for the Nash County Sheriff’s Office said, “Sheriff Stone has made it clear that unless there are some extenuating circumstances, we will not be enforcing the mask order at all. He believes that each individual should make that choice depending on what their situations are. If you choose to wear a mask, then do so. If you choose not, then don’t.”
The Telegram also emailed Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson and Rocky Mount Police Chief George Robinson about their plans to enforce the state executive order and local city mandate. Neither responded by press time.
Neither the city nor state mandates offer any real method of enforcement of the requirement to wear face coverings.
The City of Rocky Mount proclamation states that “the intent of this declaration is to encourage voluntary compliance with the requirements established herein by businesses and persons within the City of Rocky Mount. Law enforcement and other public safety and emergency management personnel are strongly encouraged to educate and encourage voluntary compliance with this order.”
Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order also has no teeth regarding individual enforcement and puts the burden of compliance on businesses.
“Citations related to this order can be written to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings. Operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on their customers or patrons’ statements about whether or not they are exempt from the face covering requirements, and businesses and organizations do not violate this order if they rely on customer or patron statements,” an FAQ document from the Governor’s Office explained.
Anyone can state they fall under an exemption, and the business owner can take them at their word, thus avoiding a citation.
There are several exemptions allowed under the state executive order. These include medical and behavioral conditions, disabilities, children under the age of 11, while eating or drinking or exercising strenuously, while communicating to hearing-impaired people, giving a speech or when face coverings need to be removed for identification or safety purposes.
“No proof or documentation is required if an individual falls into an exception category,” the state order clarified.
The City of Rocky Mount adds another exemption “for people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.”
The state executive order forbids law enforcement of the order unless trespassing is involved.
“Law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this order against individual workers, customers or patrons. However, if a business or organization does not allow entry to a worker, customer or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that worker, customer or patron enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement personnel may enforce the trespassing laws,” the official explanation of the order states.
Stone also clarified statements that have made the rounds on social media concerning whether it is legal for people to wear a face covering while lawfully carrying a concealed weapon.
“We have received numerous questions in regards to the mask mandate as it relates to carrying concealed weapons permit holders. There is a meme going around Facebook saying you will be charged with a felony if carrying concealed and wearing a mask. This is not true. Under normal circumstances, it is against the law to wear a mask in public over the age of 16. In light of the recent events with the pandemic and the mask mandate, we will not be charging and arresting anyone for wearing a mask and carrying concealed as long as they are carrying legally and not committing a crime,” a post on the Nash County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page stated.
The decision is based on another temporary piece of legislation that Cooper signed into law on May 4, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“The legislation temporarily modifies several North Carolina statutes which have been on the books since 1953, which make it a crime to wear a mask to conceal or disguise your identity on public or private property,” the post stated.
That piece of legislation is set to expire Aug. 1 unless it is otherwise extended, the Nash County Sheriff’s Office said.
Despite the lack of enforcement of the new mandates, state and local government and health officials are urging the wearing of face masks as a way of slowing down the spread of COVID-19 and protecting one another from contact with the virus.
“Scientific evidence suggests that use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic can help reduce disease transmission. Cloth face coverings can reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for staying six feet apart, washing hands and staying home when ill,” the official state guidance says.