Health officials have been saying it for weeks: It’s time to “get behind the mask.” And starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the latest executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper to slow the spread of COVID-19 goes into effect, requiring all North Carolina residents over the age of five to wear a face covering any time they are indoors with someone who is not a member of their immediate household.
That stricter requirement means nothing without widespread enforcement, Cooper noted at a Nov. 23 press conference. To that end, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer updated their own executive orders on Nov. 25, outlining local plans to enforce the face covering mandate and commercial capacity limits.
All businesses, regardless of industry, must post their maximum occupancy and reminders to wear a face covering in a prominent location, explained Fletcher Tove, Buncombe’s emergency preparedness director, at a Nov. 25 press conference. Businesses will not be penalized if a customer refuses to wear a mask, Newman added, but they could be fined if employees fail to do so.
If a business or individual is found in violation of the executive order, a multiagency task force will first impose a $50 civil penalty or criminal citation, Tove continued. The second time a business is found in violation, it will be shut down immediately for 24 hours. Additional violations will result in longer business closures.
“The requirements are asking businesses to do things that are fully within their power,” Newman said. “They may not be able to make 100% of people in our society believe in masks, but they can certainly require their employees to wear masks. And they can certainly enforce the number of people that are legally permitted in their place of business.”
A similar task force — made up of public health officials, Asheville Police Department officers, members of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department and city and county fire marshals — was employed in August to enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines at area restaurants. At that time, the team visited 30 establishments but issued no citations.
Task force members will both preemptively patrol area businesses and respond to complaints submitted by community members, Tove explained. To report a business in violation of COVID-19 safety guidelines, call 828-419-0095 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations continue upward momentum
Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, North Carolina’s COVID-19 metrics continue to climb. On Nov. 25, new COVID-19 cases topped 4,200 for the third time in the past week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations exceeded 1,800 for the first time that day as well, the third consecutive daily record.
But health experts warn that heightened viral spread may not be as apparent in forthcoming data. Erin Kissane, co-founder of the volunteer COVID Tracking Project, noted that limited testing over the holiday weekend will likely cause an artificial flattening of case and death numbers immediately after Thanksgiving. In the week following Thanksgiving, numbers are expected to artificially spike as data reporting catches up with the holiday backlog.
In other news
- Warren Wilson College finished the fall semester without an on-campus case of COVID-19, school administrators report. The college implemented daily temperature checks and a hybrid academic schedule at the beginning of the academic year.
- Asheville City Schools will close all buildings for two weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday, according to a statement by spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin. The move is intended to give all students and families the opportunity to quarantine for 14 days following any Thanksgiving travel.
- Buncombe County offices will be closed in observance of Thanksgiving Thursday-Friday, Nov. 26-27. A list of affected services can be found here.