Businesses On The Hook For Complying With NC Face Covering Order

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 26, 2020
Danielle Cullen, who was wearing a mask in case she has novel coronavirus without knowing it, waits for her friends Friday outside the Sunglass Hut at Mayfaire Town Center. (Photo by Cece Nunn)

Wearing a blue mask, Danielle Cullen shopped Friday at Mayfaire Town Center in Wilmington with some friends.

She waited for them just before noon outside Sunglass Hut, which had a four-person occupancy limit as a result of restrictions aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.

Asked why she wore a mask to shop, Cullen, an 18-year-old Winston-Salem resident, said, “For other people mostly. I don’t want to be the person who gives it [the novel coronavirus] out to people.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that face coverings must be worn, with a list of exemptions, when people are in public places in all of North Carolina, seeking "to stabilize concerning trends of increasing viral spread."

That leaves businesses on the hook.

"Citations related to this Order can be written to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings,” state officials wrote.

The requirement goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

In an email to Wilmington Chamber of Commerce members, President and CEO Natalie English said, “Ultimately, the onus of enforcement will largely fall on the shoulders of the business community. I understand the burden that will present if you have customers not willing to comply,” English wrote. “To encourage participation from our community members, I am encouraging you to place signage in entryways of your business referencing this new face mask requirement and the Governor’s Executive Order.” 

English included a link to free and downloadable graphics in English and Spanish.

She also listed Cape Fear Restaurant Equipment and Hensler Surgical Technologies as places where businesses could obtain masks.

"If your business is also selling PPE supplies, please let us know and we’ll maintain a list on the coronavirus page of our website,” English said.

There's a loophole in the order through the fact that businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on customer statements about whether or not they are exempt from the face-covering requirements. Exemptions include any medical or behavioral condition or disability.

According to state officials, "Businesses and organizations do not violate this Order if they rely on customer or patron statements. Law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this Order against individual workers, customers, or patrons."

But if a business or organization denies entry to a worker, customer or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering and that person then enters anyway, law enforcement officers can enforce trespassing laws. 

At Mayfaire, some stores posted signs letting customers know they are required to wear masks, even before the state requirement.

According to the CDC's webpage on the subject, "Cloth face coverings may slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others."

A business on South College Road enstated the requirement on June 1, when it reopened to customers.

"The only way I felt safe with opening up the store," said Kerry Bradley, owner of Aunt Kerry's Pet Stop at 3600 S. College Road, "was to require masks for employees and customers."

Read more about the face covering exemptions and rules by clicking here.

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