By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on June 20, 2020
Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard says there are three primary reasons why officials decided to require the wearing of face coverings in public spaces when social distancing is not possible — a measure that takes effect on June 21 and includes some exceptions. Those reasons include the rising number of cases, the recommendation of the county’s top health official and the experiences of other states in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The face coverings announcement came after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Dare County Control Group on June 19, marking the 43rd meeting of that group since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “Every single member of the Control Group was unanimous,” said Woodard. That group includes, among others, the mayors of all six Dare County municipalities.
In a Voice interview, Woodard said he called the June 19 meeting “because North Carolina’s [COVID-19] numbers are going up and our numbers are going up once we opened the door,” by re-opening the county to visitors on May 16.
Cases of COVID-19 have also spiked at the state level, which has reported a total of 51,389 cases as of June 20 (including 1,549 new cases reported that day) and is seeing record number of hospitalizations. Both Governor Roy Cooper and Health and Human Services Director Mandy Cohen have repeatedly called those trends “concerning” in recent days.
With two new cases reported on June 20, Dare County has now reported 46 overall cases and is seeing a spike of 14 new cases reported in the past eight days. The two new June 20 cases involve a young male and female who are non-residents of the county.
Woodard also cited the experience in neighboring Virginia, where the governor’s order to wear masks in indoor public settings appears to have helped slow the number of new cases. And he also noted that, “Our Health and Human Services Director [Sheila Davies] has recommended that we go to required mask wearing,” since the county was opened to visitors.
The June 19 Control Group decision reverses one a week earlier that recommended, but did not require the wearing of masks because, as Woodard noted at the time, it would be very difficult to enforce.
Asked about enforcement of the new requirement, he said that if people “call the Emergency Management Hotline” citing people not wearing face coverings, “we are going to turn that over to the [appropriate] town.” If the complaints involve unincorporated areas of Dare County, “we will turn it over to the sheriff’s office” for investigation.
Regarding his own anecdotal sense about the level of compliance with the previous recommendation to wear face coverings, Woodard said, “I’m generally pleased for the most part that folks are wearing masks…I’d say probably thirty to forty percent of them are not wearing masks.”
The chairman also said that a number of public education efforts are underway or being planned to help reinforce the requirement to wear face coverings. They range from message boards on the Bypass to videos featuring the county commissioners to creating and positioning lawn signs as part of getting out what Woodard characterizes as a “proactive” message about face coverings.
The county’s new requirement on face coverings comes only days before Governor Cooper is expected to announce new measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 in the state —measures that could potentially involve stricter requirements on the use of face coverings.
Asked if he knows what the governor is planning to announce, Woodard said, “I don’t have a clue. Nobody’s given any indication of what he’s thinking.”
Update: This story had previously reported there is no penalty for non-compliance with the face covering requirement. Technically, according the Order, such a violation can be considered a misdemeanor.