Effective immediately, mass gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited within the town limits of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Ronda under a revised declaration of emergency approved by mayors of the three municipalities Wednesday.
“The enhanced declaration also closes recreational amenities like playground equipment, picnic shelters and outdoor athletic courts, both publicly- or privately-owned, within the municipal limits,” stated a press release announcing the 10-person threshold.
“All these amenities encourage mass gatherings, and many have surfaces where the virus can live and be transmitted to residents by touch. All reservations at Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Ronda parks are cancelled,” stated the press release, which has the seals of all three towns.
Amenities such as trails and fields remain open for individual use, but the release said residents are strongly encouraged to practice social distancing even when they are outside.
The release said the new limit on the size of gatherings and closure of recreational amenities are designed to fight against the spread of the coronavirus by reducing opportunities for person-to-person transmission of the virus.
The state of emergency remains in place through April 30, as it did when the local declaration was first announced on March 13 with a mass gathering limit of 100 or more and on March 19 when this was revised to 50 or more.
Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, joined the mayors in approving the declarations on March 13 and 19 but not on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, Settle said he didn’t support the revised declaration with a threshold of 10 because he thought 50 or more was enough, at least until something changes. “I don’t think there is a need for creating more panic” by limiting gatherings to less than 10 people, he added.
Settle said it made more sense to limit gatherings to less than 10 people in the towns because of parks and playgrounds there. He also noted that Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest prohibition on crowd sizes was 50 or more.
Settle said he hadn’t been able to reach Wilkes County Commissioner Gary Blevins to hear his position, but said that the other three commissioners (David Gambill, Brian Minton and Keith Elmore) agreed with him about leaving the limit at 50 or more when he polled them.
Blevins said in an interview that he supported prohibiting mass gatherings of 10 or more people.
The release quoted Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore as saying, “We’re just trying to be proactive and get out in front of this.” Inscore added, “Please believe the action we are taking is in everyone’s best interest! Our responsibility is to protect your welfare, health, and safety.”
North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson stated in the release, “No doubt about it, not being able to gather in groups and not being able to use all our public amenities is a huge change to our way of life, but the health experts I trust tell me that these are the kinds of things we need to do to stop the coronavirus from spreading.”
During the Wilkes County commissioners meeting on March 19, Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew said 50 or more was too large and that gatherings of 10 or more should be prohibited. On Wednesday, Shew reiterated this position.
The release stated that the federal government and health professionals support prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people.
On March 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President Trump recommended no gatherings of 10 or more people for the next 15 days.
When Settle and the three mayors declared the state of emergency for Wilkes with a prohibition of gatherings of 100 or more people on March 13, they exempted those held for church or other religious purposes.
A press release said Settle, Inscore and Johnson sought input from pastors and other church leaders in Wilkes before including church services in the ban on gatherings of 50 or more people.
Wednesday’s press release didn’t specifically say if church services are included in the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people, but North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper said that is the intent.
Hooper also said the intent was to exclude the same types of facilities that that the governor said were exempt when he prohibited gatherings of 100 or more people on March 14. These included medical facilities, libraries, shopping facilities, offices, factories or retail or grocery stores.
Cooper also implied that these exemptions were still included when he revised the statewide threshold to 50. Cooper said violation of his limit on the size of gatherings was a class 2 misdemeanor.
Hooper said local officials don't intend to start having people arrested for violating the limit on the size of gatherings, but added that officials intend for it to be taken seriously.
On Monday, Cooper ordered the closure on Wednesday of all bingo parlors (including those operated by charitable organizations), bowling alleys, indoor exercise facilities, health clubs, indoor pools, live performance venues, movie theaters, skating rinks, spas, sweepstakes lounges, video game arcades, barber shops, beauty salons, hair salons, nail salons/manicure/pedicure providers, massage parlors and tattoo parlors close. He also ordered that all school buildings be closed until May 15.
Earlier, he ordered that all restaurants and bars only serve via take-out and delivery.