Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory mask rule this week. (Image via NC DPS) Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory mask rule this week. (Image via NC DPS)

Gov. Roy Cooper moved Monday to close loopholes in the state’s mask mandate and require masks in indoor settings, as well as outdoors when with non-household members.

North Carolina is on very shaky ground when it comes to COVID-19. The death toll has topped 5,000 while the number of patients hospitalized now at its pandemic peak of more than 1,600. 

In light of that and other signs the infectious disease is spreading rapidly throughout the state, NC Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday tightened up the state’s rules on mask wearing as the state heads into the Thanksgiving holiday. 

“We are in danger,” Cooper said. “This is a pivotal moment.”

His new executive order mandates that face-masks be worn anytime you’re indoors with someone outside your household. You also now must wear a mask when within six feet outdoors of  others. 

That means masks are required indoors, even in your own home, if there are visitors from outside your household or if you go inside anywhere other than your own home, even with six feet of distancing.  This includes wearing masks while seated at a restaurant and not actively eating or drinking. 

“We are on very shaky ground,” added Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services at the same news conference Monday. “I do not want to see the bottom fall out. I am especially concerned about our record number of people in the hospital.”

Wearing masks when around others will help the state’s economy in the long run, Cooper said. 

“You need to wear it in situations when you are with someone who is not in your household,” he said. “It costs so little but it does so much to put dollars back into our economy.” 

Greensboro Moves to Fine Businesses

Cooper also spotlighted the City of Greensboro and its efforts to enforce public safety measures. 

Guilford is one of 20 counties across the state suffering what state officials call “critically” high levels of community spread. Over the past three months, that county has seen its 7-day rolling average of new cases climb from about 40 per day to more than 200.  In all, Guilford has seen more than 15,000 cases and 230 deaths.

“Our case numbers have been doubling every month,” said Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, adding that new daily cases might approach 300 by March. 

That’s why on Friday Vaughan issued an emergency order levying a $100 fine for every person that a business allows inside beyond its capacity under the state’s COVID restrictions. Vaughan also asked other city departments like health, building and planning and traffic to assist local police with enforcing face-masks and social distancing rules. Teams have visited scores of businesses over the past few days to urge compliance.  

“Let’s do our part to keep business in business,” Vaughan said. 

Hospital Systems Strained

Statewide, hospitals are nearing 60% capacity, but the numbers are even more precarious for some regions like the Mid Carolina Regional Healthcare Coalition, which sweeps in a V shape in nine counties from Orange to Richmond to Sampson. They’re near the state average for hospital-bed capacity, but their Intensive Care Unit beds are about three-quarters full. 

In Guilford last spring, Cone Health had already reopened its former Women’s Hospital to treat severe COVID-19 cases.

“Without these additional beds, we would already be over capacity,” Vaughan said. 

Cooper said the state’s 5,039 deaths marked a “grim milestone,” and he urged caution around holiday gatherings, to ensure that “more loved ones make it to next year’s Thanksgiving table.”

Though the state’s Phase 3 restrictions limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor to 50, Cohen urged even smaller numbers, distancing and mask-wearing for the Thanksgiving weekend. 

“Keep it small, keep it outdoors and wear a mask all the time,” she said.  “We don’t want to have to go backward.” 

Cooper and Cohen urged persistence with safety strategies to see North Carolina through to a coronavirus vaccine. 

“We know that the other side of this pandemic is not that far away,”  Cooper said. “Our numbers are going up, but things are not on fire yet.  We know that we have the key to stemming the tide, and that is enforcing the safeguards that we already have in place.”