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Orange County will require masks starting this Friday


A student puts on his shoes before leaving his house on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Upon re-opening in the fall, it will be required for students to wear masks when they are in public.

Orange County residents will be required to wear facial coverings in public spaces where social distancing is not possible starting this Friday, June 12 at 5 p.m.

The change was written in an amendment to the county’s state of emergency declaration signed by County Commissioner Penny Rich this morning which also extended the state of emergency to August 31, past UNC students’ return on August 10, meaning students will be required to wear masks in Orange County when they return to campus.

Rich said the mask rule will not extend to classrooms or UNC campus, but it will extend to any student who ventures into the Chapel Hill community or any student in off-campus housing. She said she hopes UNC leaders will consider crafting stricter mask rules for the classroom setting in the fall, especially considering the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus. 

According to the Carolina Together website, which hosts the University's roadmap for a return to campus in the fall, "the expectation is that face masks will be worn in the classroom and in the workplace."

Rich said due to concerns that not everyone has access to masks, county leaders waited to put this amendment in place until they had the ability to buy masks to provide. 

“We’ve actually been talking about this for a couple weeks. The concerns among the health department and emergency services were based around the fact that we could not acquire enough masks to hand out to folks if they couldn't get masks,” Rich said. “So we didn’t want the requirement in place until we had the ability to actually purchase masks.”

In a previous amendment, service workers were required to wear masks and businesses were recommended to require customers to wear masks to enter. Under this amendment, workers and customers will be mandated to wear masks, aside from some exceptions.

The most recently amended declaration states all retail and food service employees, all retail and food service patrons, all public transit users and anyone else in a situation where physical distancing of six feet is not possible are required to wear a mask.  

The amended declaration, which was written in collaboration between the county commissioners and the mayors, makes accommodations for those who are unable to wear a mask due to health, behavioral or religious concerns, as well as anyone under 12. 

Rich said like previous coronavirus legislation, the mask requirement would be enforced in an education-based manner, avoiding arrests or citations. Rich said the wait to put out this amendment was also to address concerns black residents may targeted with enforcement.

"We just didn't know if this was going to affect how people will be enforcing it, people calling us up, we don't know if they would be targeted more, and this was a big concern of our health director, who is an African-American woman," Rich said. "So we really just took her lead on this and worked through a lot of conversation, and we included law enforcement in there, they've been involved from the beginning on this, and the Department of Social Services."

In a tweet this morning, Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker wrote that masks are needed now more than ever. 

The declaration allows for mask removal when complying with law enforcement orders, while dining in restaurants, in private office and home settings and in retail settings where wearing a mask may be unfeasible.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.  


@DTHCityState |

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