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Orange County will mandate face coverings for business employees during Phase 2

A customer with a mask on at Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston, IL on Friday, May 8, 2020 waits in line for his order, while the employees have no form PPE. In North Carolina upon entering Phase 2 of COVID-19 recovery, it will be required for all employees and strongly recommended for customers of restaurants and local businesses to wear masks to prevent against the spread of the virus.

Orange County will require business employees wear facial coverings starting 5 p.m. on May 22 under an amendment to the existing Orange County Emergency Declaration.

Under the amendment, which is an Orange County-specific addition to Governor Roy Cooper’s Phase 2 executive order, dine-in restaurants will limit party size to six people except in the cases of large households. The amendment also recommends businesses should require customers to wear facial coverings or masks. The amendment is set to expire on June 30.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said despite initial concerns about the length of Phase 1, county and town leaders were comfortable moving into Phase 2 with these modifications because Cooper’s order, which will allow salons, dine-in restaurants and pools to reopen, is more modest than was initially outlined in his three-phase plan.

“People in our community both live and work in other communities, so staying more consistent with the Governor’s plan we find helpful,” Hemminger said. 

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the facial covering rule accommodates for dine-in restaurants, and customers can take coverings off to eat, but said customers are still recommended to wear them while they wait to be seated and served. 

Although the order does not require businesses to provide masks to their employees, Rich said this responsibility should still fall on businesses, and recommended any business struggling to provide masks to its employees ask for help from the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

“We’ve gotten a lot of donations of cloth face coverings that our first responders cannot use because they’re not PPE, they’re not for that, so we do have some we can give,” Rich said. “If employers don’t have access to them, they would call the Emergency Operations Center.”

Those under the age of 12 and those who abstain from wearing a facial covering for religious or health reasons are exempt from this part of the amendment. 

Under the state order, mass gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outside, except for religious gatherings. The county order clarifies that public bodies, such as council and commission meetings, are still limited to 10 people, but this limit does not apply to religious services, weddings and funerals. 

As of 10:51 a.m. on May 22, Orange County has 291 cases of COVID-19 and 39 deaths due to COVID-19, which puts the county at 20 cases per 10,000 residents. In a county civic alert, Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart said the best way to prevent future spread of the virus will still be to maintain physical distance and large gatherings. 

“A crowd is still going to be a dangerous thing until we are further along in defeating this virus,” Stewart said in the alert. “It’s something we need to continue to avoid.”

Hemminger said leaders continue to monitor COVID-19 data for changes, but with a stable three to four new cases per day, she said Orange County is ready to move into Phase 2.

“We’re trying to trust the science and the data, and the science and data for Orange County is pretty level right now, and we don’t want to encourage a larger spread, so we’d like to add face coverings,” Hemminger said, “But we don’t want to mandate that everyone has to wear them because not everybody has access to them.”

Rich said she realizes this amendment, like previous COVID-19 regulations, may be “tricky” to enforce. She said although the county will be depending on employers to enforce these rules, law enforcement will continue to take tips from residents about businesses or individuals in violation of the order.

“Our intentions are never to be writing citations or arresting people. That’s not the intentions of these requirements,” Rich said. “It’s more of an educational process.”

Chapel Hill Chief of Police Chris Blue said law enforcement agencies' education-based approach to enforcing coronavirus regulations will continue through Phase 2, but he said there may be more violations as residents adjust to new rules.

“I can imagine that we will likely get some calls where people may be confused about the differences between the governor’s order and the local order,” Blue said. “But those are education opportunities as well.”

Rich also said a learning curve will likely accompany this phase and its modifications. Regardless, she said as long as residents and businesses follow Cooper’s order and the county’s rules, this phase will be a healthy step to move Orange County toward coronavirus recovery. 

“I would imagine that there would be some confusion at the beginning,” Rich said. “But once we get everybody on the same page, I think it will just become part of the daily routine of someone who goes to work to put a face mask on.”


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