Gov. Roy Cooper announced an executive order that extends and builds upon Phase 3 Covid-19 restrictions — including tightening the statewide mask mandate so every North Carolinian would be obligated to wear a mask whenever they are accompanied by someone who is not a member of their household. The original mask mandate went into effect in June. 

“I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” Cooper said at Monday’s press briefing. 

The tightened measures go into effect Wednesday at 5 p.m. and extend through Dec. 11. Cooper’s executive order comes as a result of worsening metrics, case counts reaching record levels and the new county alert system classifying 20 North Carolina counties as having critical community spread. Last week, only 10 counties reported having critical community spread. 

“Our statewide metrics and county alert map show that we are on very shaky ground,” Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said. “I do not want to see the bottom fall out.” 

Cohen updated the public on the state’s data trends. She said Covid-like and lab-confirmed cases are increasing dramatically, while hospitalizations and positive test rates are slightly increasing. 

“The coming weeks will be a true test of our resolve,” Cohen said at the press briefing. “Do what it takes to keep people from getting sick, to save lives and to make sure you have hospital care when you need it.” 

Cooper echoed Cohen’s sentiment, saying the next seven to 14 days will tell the task force if the state is “stemming the tide,” or whether they need to ratchet up restrictions even more.

With the new executive order in place, Cooper said people need to wear a mask when they are at home with visiting friends or family, work, the gym, the store and school. Also, in preparation for Black Friday and holiday shopping, the order strengthens the role of businesses so they can ensure the 50% capacity limit is followed and staff members and customers are wearing masks. Law enforcement and health departments can intervene if stores don’t comply. 

Cooper said he doesn’t want the state to go backward, but the public will need to follow safety guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19. Otherwise, Cooper said he’s working with state and local governments to enforce harsher restrictions if necessary. 

Last week, the governor announced the state’s county alert system, which tracks community spread across North Carolina’s 100 counties. The level of spread is color-coded as:

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen presenting an update on the state’s county alert system map.

Red = critical community spread

Orange = substantial community spread 

Yellow = significant community spread

According to the map, Mecklenburg County falls within significant community spread (yellow). As of Monday, there were 41,206 lab-confirmed cases in Mecklenburg County, according to county public health officials. 

Statewide, Cooper said there were 339,194 Covid-19 cases, with 2,419 of them reported on Sunday. He warned the public, particularly those in the 42 orange-coded counties, of the chance of increased Covid-19 spread during the holidays and colder months. 

“As you can see, our numbers are too high,” Cooper said. “This virus is deadly, and it’s spreading too fast.” 

With Thanksgiving this week, Cooper advised the public to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to avoid traveling for the holiday. Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people unless they all live in the same household. 

“Remember, when it comes to the holidays, smaller and smarter is safer,” Cooper said. “If we can keep it up just a little bit longer, we can ensure that more loved ones make it to next year’s Thanksgiving table.”

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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