Mecklenburg County and its constituent municipalities, including Charlotte, have issued a stay-at-home order due to coronavirus. Seen here, Freedom Park with uptown Charlotte buildings in the background. Photo courtesy of Mecklenburg County

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With Gov. Roy Cooper continuing to resist a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, he reminded county commissioners and other elected leaders of their power to do so on their own Tuesday.

After that, a wave of counties and cities decided to restrict travel for all but essential activities like getting groceries and medical care. People who have roles for essential businesses, like child care, elder care, hospitals and grocery stores, are allowed to travel to work and home, but specific rules and exceptions vary widely between jurisdictions.

People who live in a county or city with a stay-at-home order should check with their local government to see who is allowed to travel and which professions or businesses qualify as essential functions, which are exempt from the stay-at-home orders.

Mecklenburg and Pitt, two of the state’s largest counties, had enacted stay-at-home orders by Tuesday afternoon. Buncombe County was in the process of drafting its own order, with details expected to be made public Wednesday morning.

There are substantial differences among the orders being adopted, how they will apply and whom they will apply to. Below are summaries of the orders in Mecklenburg and Pitt counties for comparison.

Mecklenburg County

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  • Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to enact a stay-at-home order for 21 days, starting Thursday morning. Residents of the most populous county in North Carolina are being ordered to stay home until April 13, unless they work in an essential business.
  • Activities essential to the health and safety of humans and their pets are allowed. This includes seeking emergency services, obtaining medical supplies, visiting a health care professional for medical services that cannot be provided virtually and other unspecified activities of this nature.
  • Activities to obtain necessary supplies and services for people or pets are allowed, including delivery of services and supplies to others. Essential supplies and services may include groceries and food, household consumer products, supplies needed to work from home and products necessary to maintain safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences.
  • Outdoor activities are allowed provided social distancing requirements are followed. Walking, hiking, golfing, running, cycling and using greenways are allowed. Public parks and open outdoor recreation areas remain open, but playgrounds are closed.
  • Travel to work to provide certain types of essential products and services is allowed. This includes health care, public health operations, human services operations, essential government functions and essential infrastructure.
  • Travel to care for others, such as family members, friends or pets, including transporting them, is allowed.
  • Stay-at-home orders have received broad support from health care leaders. In Charlotte, the CEOS of Atrium Health and Novant Health asked Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Doiorio on Monday to enact the order. “Our predictive models show that we have hours, not days, to help flatten the curve in a way that does not overwhelm critical services,” the executives wrote. “Each hour that passes, more and more residents are coming into contact with others, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.”
  • The Mecklenburg order was issued in coordination with the mayors of all municipalities, so it applies in all areas of the county, incorporated and unincorporated.
  • The order also restricts gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Pitt County

  • Pitt County Board of Commissioners Chair Melvin McLawhorn declared the stay-at-home order on Monday, to be effective at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
  • The Pitt order only applies to unincorporated areas of the county. Towns and cities may choose to follow the county order, enact their own policies or do nothing for now. The city of Greenville told Carolina Public Press on Tuesday afternoon that the city is working on its own order, which is being drafted more slowly to provide greater detail than the county order. That order may be placed in effect later this week, but no decision had been made as of late Tuesday afternoon.
  • Residents should stay at home, except for essential activities, including work for an essential business or to provide essential government services.
  • Activities essential to the health and safety of people and pets are allowed.
  • Obtaining necessary supplies and services or delivering them to others is allowed. This includes groceries, food, household consumer products, items needed to work from home, and products needed to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of the residence.
  • Outdoor activities are allowed as long as social distancing is maintained. This includes walking, hiking, golfing, cycling and running.
  • Caring for others or transporting them is allowed.
  • Work for businesses that provide essential services is allowed.
  • Anyone whose residence becomes unsafe, such as victims of domestic violence, are permitted to leave home and stay at an alternative location.
  • Nonessential businesses must close, but work that employees can do at home is allowed.
  • Essential businesses include those on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency memorandum of identification of essential workers during the COVID-19 response, which was issued March 19. This includes grocery stores, pharmacies, agricultural operations, manufacturing that can be done while maintaining social distancing, charitable and social services, health care and public health operations, news media, gas stations, financial and insurance institutions, hardware and supply stores, critical trades (such as plumbers, electricians and exterminators), mail delivery, educational institutions providing distance learning, laundry services, takeout restaurants, services and supplies for other essential businesses and government services, delivery services, transportation services, home-based care and services, residential facilities and shelters, professional services (legal, accounting and real estate firms) when necessary for time-sensitive or legally mandated activities, child care, hotels and motels, funeral services, solid waste services.
  • Outdoor businesses and construction activities are allowed as long as social distancing is maintained.
  • Provided social distancing is maintained, companies may continue minimum basic operations to maintain the value of business inventory, ensure security, process payroll, benefits and related functions. Minimum office activity to allow employees to continue working at home is also allowed.
  • Essential federal, state and local government activities, including ABC Commission stores, are allowed to operate.

Additional counties and municipalities

Several smaller counties, such as Madison, have enacted or are discussing stay-at-home orders. Other counties, such as Gaston, have specifically declined to issue such an order for now but said it remains on the table.

Some cities and towns, such as Greenville and Beaufort, have enacted or are considering measures that may be different from those in their county.

North Carolina residents should check with their local governments to find out whether their area is included in a stay-at-home order and how that order works in their location.

Border closures

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A few areas are closing their borders to all but residents. Dare County, on the coast, closed its borders starting March 18 and requires permits to reenter the county. As of Tuesday morning, Dare had not yet reported a resident with a positive COVID-19 test result.

Similarly, Graham County, in the mountains, is also restricting travel for residents only.

A state of emergency approved over the weekend closed all hotels and limits traffic. People who are detoured through the county due to road construction in the Nantahala Gorge are allowed to travel through the county but cannot stop.

Counties with closed borders have not necessarily passed stay-at-home orders, and those with stay-at-home orders have not necessarily closed their borders. It’s possible that additional counties and municipalities will do both in the days ahead.

Residents should check with their local governments to determine what policies are in effect in their area at this time and whether those rules will affect their work commutes and other activities.


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Kate Martin and Frank Taylor

Kate Martin is the lead investigative reporter at Carolina Public Press. Frank Taylor is managing editor. Contact Kate at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org. Contact Frank at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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