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Citing “troubling trends” in coronavirus cases, including two days last week of the highest case counts since the pandemic began, Gov. Roy Cooper extended Phase 3 restrictions for three weeks on Wednesday and asked local municipalities and counties to institute and enforce more restrictive measures.
Cooper called on law enforcement and local leaders in 36 counties to address their recent spike in coronavirus cases.
In a letter to local officials, Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and Erik Hooks, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, encouraged counties to implement civil penalties or impose fines for violations of local mask orders.
The letter suggests specific actions local authorities might take such as prohibiting the sale of alcohol earlier than the statewide 11 p.m. mandate or closing bars and nightclubs that may be hot spots for transmission.
Cohen and Hooks sent the letter to officials in counties identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern and where there have been 300 or more new cases in the last two weeks.
They also sent the letter to officials where the case rate exceeds 50 per 10,000 people and to officials in the three most populous counties: Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford.
Although some local law enforcement agencies have refused to enforce mask orders and other COVID-19 restrictions, Cooper remains convinced local law enforcement can play a role, even informally.
While they may not use their authority to enforce a mask order, local law enforcement may go to retail establishments and use trespassing laws to remove offenders, he said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Cooper’s challenger in the gubernatorial race, said in a press release on Twitter that the governor is “passing the buck” and “attempting to use local governments to punish businesses and individuals doing what they can to survive.”
Cooper said his administration is “putting the onus on the retail establishments to make sure that the people who are in their restaurant, grocery store or drugstore … that all of them are wearing the masks.”
The call for stronger local enforcement comes in the midst of a spike in cases, particularly those linked to family gatherings, parties and religious gatherings, Cohen said.
Under the current restrictions, which were set to expire Friday and will now continue until at least Nov. 13, social gatherings remain capped at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
Despite the fatigue from the restrictions and precautions, people must remain vigilant, Cooper said: “I know that it is tiring and difficult to keep up our guard, especially when we are gathered with people we love, but it is necessary.”
New data presentation
The upward trend contributes to the state’s 250,000 reported cases. More than 4,000 North Carolinians have died since the start of the pandemic. Data about the virus, including rates of infection, testing, and deaths, is available on the Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 North Carolina online dashboard.
On Wednesday, Cooper announced an expansion of the dashboard to include demographic data such as race, gender and age of hospitalized patients. Hospitalizations are trending up in the state, but hospitals have capacity, Cohen said.
“This has been a really hard year. I understand how much everyone wants to be with family and friends without having to worry about a virus,” Cohen said. “Ignoring the virus does not make it go away. Just the opposite.”