Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday issued a mandatory mask requirement across North Carolina and ordered a "pause" on easing any other restrictions as infections rates and the number of hospitalizations continue to climb.
The two actions announced at an afternoon news conference could further inflame rising tensions between the governor and the Republican-led General Assembly, and several business owners in the fitness and entertainment industries.
Cooper, however, reiterated his vow to follow the science and trends and expressed hope that mandating all North Carolinians to wear a face covering could "stabilize" the spread of the coronavirus and enable the state to move into the next phase of reopening.
The"Safer At Home" Executive Order, signed May 22, allowed restaurants, barbershops and salons, among other personal care businesses, to open with capacity restrictions. The order, which was due to expire on June 26, will now be in effect through the July 4 holiday and expire July 17.
Cooper, a Democrat, has twice vetoed proposed legislation that would allow gyms, fitness clubs and bars to open. A bill passed this week, which would allow July 4 parades and festivals to go on as planned, is expected to meet the same fate.
Wearing face coverings has long been a part of what officials have dubbed "The Three W's", in addition to washing hands and waiting six feet apart. The new order now makes at least one part of that a statutory requirement, and follows mandates put in place in other cities like Raleigh and Durham.
Additionally, the Governor's mask mandate will be enforceable; retail stores, supermarkets, construction sites, manufacturing plants, meat processing facilities, personal care businesses and restaurants will all be susceptible to citations and other penalties if all employees--and their customers--are not wearing a face covering.
Law enforcement can also use trespassing laws to help businesses enforce the requirement when customers refuse to wear a mask.
There will be exceptions including children under 11 and people with certain medical conditions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute on Infectious Diseases and member of the President's Coronavirus Task Force, testified before a Congressional panel this week and expressed concern about "additional infections" across the country and in North Carolina.
Wednesday, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine from states where the infection rate is high--including North Carolina.
Here's more from our news partner WTVD ABC11: