MINT HILL, NC – On Wednesday, June 24, Governor Cooper announced that North Carolina would remain in Phase 2 of his three-phased reopening plan for an additional three weeks.
It’s what Governor Cooper deemed “one of two important decisions that we need to make to effectively fight this disease.” The other decision, also announced on Wednesday, requires face coverings in public beginning at 5:00 pm on Friday, June 26.
Prior to June 26, face coverings were recommended in public but not required. Under the new executive order, people must wear face coverings in public places where physical distancing is not possible. Face coverings are defined as “a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps or loops over the ears or is simply wrapped around the lower face.” A wide variety of face coverings are acceptable including those that are factory-made, sewn by hand or improvised from household items such as scarves or bandanas.
The mandate covers a wide swath of public spaces: employees and customers at retail businesses, restaurants, personal care and grooming businesses; employees of child care centers and camps; state government agencies; workers and riders of transportation; and workers in construction/trades, manufacturing, agriculture, meat processing, healthcare and long term care settings.
It also includes a lengthy list of exceptions. Children under eleven, those with medical or behavioral conditions that preclude wearing a face covering, and people eating, drinking or exercising strenuously are exempt from the mask mandate. Those not wearing face coverings are not required to produce proof of a condition exempting them.
As we continue to learn more about how COVID-19 spreads, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that simple cloth face coverings are an effective way to slow the spread of the virus. Originally skeptical about their effectiveness, the CDC has updated its guidance to recommend cloth face coverings for anyone older than two in public settings where it is difficult to maintain social distancing. While they may not keep the wearer from contracting the virus, they may help asymptomatic and presymptomatic wearers from spreading it to others.
“Medical science says to reduce the spread of COVID-19 masking works,” said Eugene A. Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health, at the Governor’s press conference, “and my sincere hope is that all the people of North Carolina can join forces to make wearing a mask not something we feel we have to do – but something that we want to do to keep each other, our neighbors, our children and our loved ones healthy and safe.”
The face mask mandate is welcomed by Mint Hill residents who see it as a commonsense way to manage the spread of the virus and keep their friends and neighbors safe.
“I am glad that the governor has finally decided to require face masks for everyone when they are in public and can’t social distance,” says Jennifer Kant, a former high school teacher and a current full-time grad student at UNC Charlotte. “I am immunocompromised due to an illness I have had since I was a kid. I’ve been doing my best to limit my contact with people by staying home, but it is frustrating to see so many people ignoring the simple health protocols that can help end the epidemic.”
“When I go to the grocery store once a week, many of the other customers are not wearing a mask like I am,” continues Kant. “I’d love it if I could go back to school and we could all get back to more of our normal lives, but that won’t happen unless we all commit to following the health guidelines and getting the spread of the virus under control. There is scientific proof that when everyone wears a mask it helps prevent the spread of the virus, and other countries that have implemented stricter guidelines have been able to stop the spread of the virus and open their countries again.”
For Mint Hill resident Lea Oglesby, wearing a mask is simply the right thing to do. “As numbers spike in different states including our own, it’s good to keep educating yourself so you know the ‘why’ of the continued precautions and can grow in empathy for those affected and gratitude if you haven’t been,” she says. “Although Mint Hill may seem rural, we are bordered by two of the fastest-growing cities, Charlotte and Concord. We teach our kids to be kind, so let’s set the example in kindness.”
Others question whether wearing masks all the time is really good for us. “With the rise in mask usage, we are seeing a very large increase in clients with upper back, shoulder pain, and headaches,” says Ashley Dwyer, owner, and therapist at Fire & Ice Therapeutic Massage. “It is my nonprofessional opinion that people should not be forced to wear masks,” continues Dwyer. “Despite those disputing claims of hypoxia, this is what I see in my practice now daily.”
Afflicted by asthma and in the past by pleurisy, Dwyer fears judgment if she takes advantage of the medical exception. “I find myself trying to please people by wearing one during their services even though I have a medical condition that I have been repeatedly told I shouldn’t be wearing one,” she says. “People will ostracize you for not wearing one regardless of the reason, because they are fearful. While the law is the law, and I am not above the law, I disagree with the law passed requiring the use of masks.”
Others simply believe that mandated masking violates their rights. “I’m totally against it,” says Linda Hefner, who works in Mint Hill. “I think it should be a personal choice. If you want to believe wearing a mask will protect you, then me making a choice not to shouldn’t make a difference because you’ll be protected. Close to four months into this, it’s a little too late to mandate this. I’ll do all my shopping in South Carolina.”
Ultimately, the mask mandate may prove difficult to enforce. CMPD does not plan to cite individuals who are not masked but will hold businesses accountable, issuing citations to businesses who do not enforce face covering for employees and customers. “Our law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face-covering requirements of this Order,” said Mint Hill Mayor Brad Simmons, “However, if a business does not allow entry to someone because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that someone enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement personnel may enforce the trespassing laws.”
Citizens may be divided in their feelings on the face-covering mandate, but Mint Hill’s leadership stands in support of the Governor’s order. “2020 has been a challenging year on many levels,” began Mayor Simmons in a statement on the new executive order. “COVID-19 is changing life as we know it daily. We strongly encourage our citizens to wear face coverings and maintain social distance. Wearing a mask may save your life or the lives of your loved ones. Wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands.”