Law enforcement leaders in Wilkes County, like many of their peers statewide, say Gov. Roy Cooper’s order requiring that most people wear face masks in public isn’t enforceable.

The order says retailers must have all customers in their establishments wearing facial coverings if they are or may be within six feet of others, unless customers claim any of several exceptions listed in the order.

It says retail, personal care and tattoo businesses and restaurants must have their workers wearing face coverings when they are or may be within six feet of others inside and outside buildings.

The order was issued Wednesday afternoon, went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and continues through 5 p.m. July 17, unless repealed or replaced.

Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew pointed out that the order says, “Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this executive order against individual workers, customers or patrons.”

Shew added, “It’s common sense to comply with the executive order” requiring wearing face masks in public. “I am doing it.”

North Wilkesboro Police Chief Joe Rankin said, “Under the express terms of the executive order, law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the face covering requirements against individuals.

Rankin noted that it says businesses may refuse entry to people who won’t wear face coverings. “In the event a person refuses to wear a face covering and refuses to leave, then law enforcement may enforce the trespassing laws and any other laws that the individual might violate,” he said.

“Law enforcement will be available to assist in the event local businesses run into problem situations.”

Rankin said the order effectively places the onus of enforcement of the face covering requirement on individual businesses. He was referring to the fact that it says businesses and organizations can be issued citations for not enforcing the order requiring face coverings.

The order says operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on statements of customers concerning whether they are exempt from wearing face coverings.

Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris said that as long as a supply of face masks lasts at Wilkesboro Town Hall, his officers will have extra masks in their patrol cars to give to patrons of businesses who don’t have them.

“The governor has not given us any enforcement authority,” added Garris.

He said he doesn’t foresee businesses or organizations being issued citations for not enforcing the order requiring face coverings. “I don’t think it will come down to that,” he said.

The order says face coverings aren’t required for those who shouldn’t wear them for medical or behavioral reasons or if they would be considered at risk from wearing a face mask at work under government regulations or workplace safety guidelines. Face masks aren’t required if they impede visibility needed to operate equipment or a vehicle

Face coverings also aren’t required for those under age 11; actively eating or drinking; strenuously exercising; working at home; in a personal vehicle; giving a speech or trying to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires a visible mouth.

The order says face masks are required for the following, all when people are or may be within six feet of others:

• adults and children 11 or older at child care facilities, day camps and overnight camps;

• on-site employees of state agencies headed by members of the Governor's Cabinet. Public-facing operations of state government agencies must follow requirements for retail businesses in the order.

• workers and riders on public or private transportation regulated by the state and people in airports, bus and train stations or stops. This doesn’t apply to people traveling alone with household members or friends in personal vehicles, but it does apply to ride-shares, cabs, vans and shuttles. “No customer will be removed from or denied entry to public transportation for failure to wear a face covering.”

• workers in manufacturing, construction and ag operations, including meat or poultry processing plants;

• for workers in long term care facilities.

Facial coverings in schools aren’t addressed in Cooper’s order, but a “frequently asked questions” document accompanying the order says they are required for all school staff and adult visitors and all middle and high school students when they are or may be within 6 feet of others, unless an exception applies.

“Cloth face coverings must be worn by students and staff inside school buildings, and anywhere on school grounds, including outside. They will also be required while traveling on buses or other transportation vehicles. Cloth face coverings remain strongly encouraged for elementary school students, if appropriate for that child, but are not required for them,” the “frequently asked questions” document says.

The order doesn’t require that town or county government employees wear face masks but it strongly encourages local governments to adopt policies requiring this. It allows temporarily removing face coverings to secure government or medical services or for identification.

Neither the order nor the  “frequently asked questions” document says if face coverings are required at religious services or any other specific situations.

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