When N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced that mask-wearing would be mandatory across the state for anyone out in the public, he made it clear individuals out of compliance would not be receiving a ticket.
However, businesses are being asked to not only ensure their employees wear masks, but that customers comply, as well.
That’s where local law enforcement could be getting calls.
Businesses not enforcing the mask rule can be ticketed, and customers within a business who refuse to put on a mask or leave could be cited for trespassing.
The situation is similar to one back in March when the county commissioners asked that anyone coming into Haywood self-quarantine for two weeks. Law enforcement officers received numerous calls to report vacation rentals and others were allowing people to stay and that the out-of-county residents weren’t quarantined as required.
At the time, Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher made multiples of copies of the rule and then go call on visitors after.
“We would send a deputy out, explain the ordinance and do our very best to work with them. It worked very well,” Chistopher said.
That’s the same approach he will use when complaints come in regarding businesses not complying with the executive order about wearing masks in public.
The process went smoothly at the time, and Christopher expects the same thing will happen this time when deputies explain the need to wear a mask, whether it is to a business owner who isn’t enforcing the face covering rule with employees or who is having problems with a noncompliant customer.
Canton Police Chief Shawn Gaddis said his department will be encouraging all in the community to follow the COVID-related rules, including face coverings.
“We’ll evaluate everything on a case-by-case basis and use discretion as we work with everybody,” Gaddis said. “Hopefully that will resolve the situation.”
It is a stressful time for everybody, Gaddis said of the circumstances created by coronavirus.
For the most part, people in Canton are being very cautious and proactive when it comes to doing the right thing, Gaddis said.
Waynesville Police Chief David Adams said something similar to Christopher and Gaddis.
“I guess it’d be a case by case basis,” he said. “Officers will speak to the person noncompliant and ask them to leave.”
“That’d be a last resort,” he added. “People have been very compliant so far.”
Businesses required by the extension of Phase 2 to remain shuttered will be dealt with similarly.
“Again, that’d be case-by-case, too, and we’d ask for voluntary compliance,” Adams said. “If a business isn’t complying, we’d probably confer with the District Attorney to talk about charges.”
When Haywood County implemented a COVID-19 call center, this spring, many of the incoming calls were to complain about others in the community who weren’t following the site guidelines. Even though the center is now closed, individuals who notice that businesses are open when they shouldn’t be, or that restaurant owners are letting staff work without masks or seat individuals at tables too close together, have still found places to complain.
Those calls generally wind up on the work list of law enforcement officers.
“We cannot just neglect a call,” Christopher said. “We will respond and see what the situation is. That’s part of our duties.”
Kyle Perrotti contributed reporting for this story.