BEAUFORT — Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck Thursday joined a growing number of North Carolina sheriffs who say they won’t enforce Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings in public.
Gov. Cooper announced the new statewide mandate Wednesday as he extended phase two of North Carolina’s reopening plan by three weeks. Executive Order 147 goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.
Under the executive order, residents are required to wear masks or other face coverings in public when physical distancing is not possible. Employees of certain businesses, including retailers and restaurants, are also required to wear a mask under the new mandate.
Violating the governor’s orders can result in a misdemeanor, but Sheriff Buck and others have stated they won’t issue citations to individuals for not following the mandate, only businesses or other organizations who fail to enforce the order.
“Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to enforce the requirement against individual workers, customers or patrons,” Sheriff Buck said in a statement released by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office Thursday evening. “However, if a business does not allow entry to a customer or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that person enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement officers may enforce trespassing laws.”
Sheriff Buck went on to state because of the wording of the executive order and the numerous exceptions it contains, “my Office will not be enforcing the face covering requirements of Executive Order 147.”
A number of other sheriffs throughout the state have issued similar statements. According to news reports, sheriffs in Craven, Beaufort, Pitt, Washington, Sampson, Bladen, Columbus, Catawba, Gaston, Burke, Iredell, Halifax, Union, Stanly, Alamance and other counties have made statements clarifying their positions on enforcement.
Some sheriffs called the order “unenforceable,” while others have taken a stronger stance, calling the mandate “unconstitutional.”
“It is my sworn duty to enforce laws enacted by our legislature, as well as protect the constitutional rights of all citizens,” Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said in a Facebook post. “It is my belief that Governor Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings by all citizens in public is not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable. My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens.”
Other sheriffs have asked for voluntary compliance with the executive orders. Some counties, including Orange and Wake, issued their own face coverings mandates before the governor’s announcement Wednesday.
Gov. Cooper’s latest executive order comes amid a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the state. Daily case numbers have been on the rise for several weeks, and hospitalizations are breaking records almost daily.
“North Carolina is relying on the data and the science to lift restrictions responsibly, and right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends,” Gov. Cooper said when he introduced the orders.
Carteret County has seen a rise in cases lately, as well. As of Friday morning, there are 71 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 18 of which are considered active. Multiple confirmed cases have been reported almost every day for the past week, and cases have nearly doubled in about a month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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