Gov. Cooper Says a Mask Rule Is ‘Absolutely in Discussion’ As COVID Cases Spike

Workers at a Walgreens location in Durham, N.C. assist persons with tests for COVID-19 at a temporary drive-thru site where patients administer their own tests in May 2020. To alleviate long testing lines today amid the Omicron surge, health officials are giving away tests and masks. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Billy Ball

June 15, 2020

Republicans and Democrats are battling it out over masks nationwide, but Cooper points to troubling coronavirus numbers in North Carolina.

Facing a spike in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, NC Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters Monday that new orders requiring a mask or face-covering in public spaces is “absolutely in discussion right now.”

Cooper addressed a potential mask rule with new research suggesting masks could play a crucial part in slowing the dangerous virus’ spread across the country. Some states and local governments have already issued orders requiring masks, and federal officials have recommended them in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. 

But NC, while requiring masks for employees at personal care businesses such as nail and hair salons, has eschewed any mask rules. Cooper confirmed Monday that such orders are on the table.

“We want people voluntarily to do this,” he said. “But we are looking at additional rules to potentially make these mandatory.” 

RELATED: ‘The Disease is Spreading’: Gov. Cooper Strikes Grim Tone As COVID Cases Spike

It’s unclear how officials would enforce such a rule.

Outlets shared multiple feeds in recent weeks of large crowds, many not practicing social distancing or wearing masks, while gathering at sporting events like the Ace Speedway in Alamance County or at restaurants in Raleigh.

Wearing a mask has become a divisive issue politically, with Republicans such as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey refusing to issue mask orders despite a 300% surge in cases in his state since the beginning of May.

Meanwhile, NC set a high Friday with 1,768 new confirmed COVID-19 cases. Those numbers dipped back in the 1,400 range Saturday and Sunday. And on Monday, the state confirmed 983 new cases. But over the last two weeks, there has been a clear upward trend, and the state’s percentage of tests coming back positive has been among the worst in the nation. 

As of Monday, NC has confirmed 45,102 cases in North Carolina and 1,118 deaths. 

Mandy Cohen, secretary of NC’s Department of Health and Human Services, says the science indicates it will take “collective action” to slow the virus, meaning the more people wearing masks, the more effective masks will be.

“The science is becoming pretty powerful that if we all do this together we can truly flatten the curve,” Cohen said.

The debate over masks comes with the Cooper administration still considering the next phase of easing social distancing orders. Cooper promised an update next week on the next phase, which was expected to go into effect June 26. 

Gov. Cooper’s administration has urged North Carolinians to wear a mask.

Cohen said in mid-May that the state could “walk back” on their please to loosen restrictions if COVID surges, although officials have been loath to talk about tightening restrictions despite the recent spike.

“The health experts are looking carefully at the numbers and science and we will let the people know next week if we will go into the next phase, and if so what the next phase will look like,” Cooper said. “Right now they’re not trending in a good direction, but we still want to give people more time. … Let’s press to make sure that we can flatten this curve.”

Officials point to the state’s relative hospital capacity as one reason, although they’ve expressed concern about recent increases in hospitalizations as well. As of Monday, the state was reporting 73% of hospital beds, and 78% of intensive care unit beds, in use.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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