North Carolina governor issues order for residents to wear masks

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Wednesday he is issuing an order requiring residents to wear masks when in public and keeping current statewide coronavirus restrictions in place for at least another three weeks amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. 

“Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet it,” Cooper said during a press conference. “Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus.”

The order will require residents to wear masks at all times in public, both indoors and outdoors, when they cannot maintain at least six feet of distance between themselves and people not in their households. People with medical conditions and children under 11 will be exempt from the requirement. 

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Cooper said the face mask requirement will help North Carolina's economy in the long run.

“We don't want to go backward. We want to stabilize our numbers so we could continue to safely ease restrictions and most importantly get our children back in school,” Cooper said. “I urge everyone to be a leader in wearing face coverings. I encourage businesses to be strong in enforcing it. Slowing the spread helps our economy and these face coverings do that.”

Several states have already imposed similar requirements, while others have resisted the move even as coronavirus cases soar. 

In addition to the new requirement, Cooper said the state will remain in phase two of its reopening for at least three more weeks. The second phase allows some businesses, including salons, restaurants and retail stores, to open at 50 percent capacity. 

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I've been clear that data and science would lead the way. In following that standard, it’s clear that our numbers will keep us from moving ahead in the next phase of easing restrictions,” he said. 

Playgrounds, gyms, museums, theaters and bars remain closed under North Carolina's phase two guidelines. 

The state health department reported 1,721 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, marking the second-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic, according to The News & Observer.

North Carolina also reached its second-highest reported daily number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday at 906, according to The News & Observer. The single-day high of 915 was reached Tuesday, the newspaper reported.