Several local departments join growing list of sheriffs who won’t enforce N.C. mask mandate

NC Gov. Roy Cooper removes his face mask before a press conference on June 25, 2020.
NC Gov. Roy Cooper removes his face mask before a press conference on June 25, 2020.(WBTV | WBTV)
Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 4:20 PM EDT
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NORTH CAROLINA (WBTV) - Multiple North Carolina sheriffs say they won’t be enforcing a mask mandate that was announced by Gov. Roy Cooper Wednesday afternoon.

Cooper said people in the state must wear face coverings when in public places, both indoors and outdoors, where physical distancing of 6 feet from people who aren’t in the same household isn’t possible.

This Executive Order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, June 26. The full executive order can be found here.

[ Gov. Cooper: N.C. to ‘pause’ in Phase 2 for three more weeks ]

How the order will be enforced has not been fully clarified, and some sheriff’s say they won’t be enforcing the new mandate at all.

Twelve sheriffs say their offices will not be enforcing the mandate. Those counties include: Catawba, Gaston, Burke, Iredell, Halifax, Bladen, Columbus, Sampson, Union, Stanly, Craven, Beaufort and Pitt.

“After careful review we find this order to be unenforceable,” the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office posted.

Other local deputies agreed.

Iredell County Sheriff Darren E. Campbell said he “firmly” believes the order is “not only unconstitutional but unenforceable. In closing, to be perfectly clear, we have no intention of enforcing this order.”

**** Edited for clarity**** The information below was posted as a service to the citizens of Iredell County. We realize...

Posted by Iredell County Sheriff on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Just after 3:30 p.m. Thursday, nearly 24 hours before the new mandate begins, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office announced on Facebook they would “not be enforcing violations of the Order. However, the sheriff’s office says they will be enforcing trespassing laws when it comes to people not wearing masks in a business or organization that requests they do.

Updated for clarity… Per NC Governor’s Executive Order No. 147, effective on June 26, 2020 at 5 p.m., the Burke County...

Posted by Burke County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Stanly County Sheriff’s Office did not say specifically they would not enforce the mandate, but the department posted they had been asked and cited Section (F) (2) of the governor’s executive order, which states “Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the Face Covering requirements of this Executive Order against individual workers, customers, or patrons.”

The Union County Sheriff’s Office cited the same section of the order.

Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger told WBTV that he too won’t be enforcing the statewide mask mandate.

“I’ve told my employees that we’re not arresting anybody or giving anybody citations for violating the masks requirement the governor signed that goes into effect on Friday,” Cloninger said.

Enforcement of Mask Provision in Governor's Order We have received many inquiries about enforcement of the mask...

Posted by Union County Sheriff's Office, Monroe, NC on Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Halifax County Sheriff’s Office said they would not be taking action just hours after the governor’s announcement on Wednesday.

“I certainly encourage people to be careful and take safety precautions, however your Sheriff’s Office will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks,” Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said in a Facebook post. “The wearing of a mask is a personal decision, not one of a governor in Raleigh. "

Jimmy Thornton, sheriff in Sampson County, says he believes Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings is “not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable.”

“My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens,” Thornton posted. “I am not encouraging negligence, but I would like to reiterate that it is not the Sheriff’s duty to enforce health related mandates unless court ordered by a Judicial Official or the Legislature.”

Facebook post from NC sheriff Jimmy Thornton
Facebook post from NC sheriff Jimmy Thornton(Facebook screenshot | Facebook screenshot)

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes offered a similar sentiment, writing that although he encourages people to take safety precautions, his office “will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks!”

I certainly encourage people to be careful and take safety precautions, however your Sheriffs Office will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks!

Posted by Sheriff Chip Hughes on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Beafort County and Pitt County sheriffs also said they would not be enforcing the mandate.

“The Governor’s executive order mandating mask will not be enforced by the members of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, however if an individual feels uncomfortable going into an environment where sanitation and distancing can’t be maintained by all means use sanitizer and/or wear a mask,” said Sheriff Ernie Coleman. “Also, common sense should dictate that if you feel ANY symptoms you should wear a mask for the protection of others or better yet ‘stay home’.”

The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office wrote, “Enforcement of Individual Face Masks. The Governor’s order has no provision for law enforcement to take action against individuals. Read our thoughts and concerns please. Thank you. Please stay safe and stay healthy!”

Multiple other counties across the state have made similar statements. As of Thursday afternoon, Gov. Cooper’s office had not issued a statement on the matter.

Face coverings will be required for all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agriculture settings.

There are exceptions including people with medical conditions and children under 11, people who are at home and people who are walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others.

Citations related to this order can be written to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings. Operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on their customers or patrons’ statements about whether or not they are exempt from the face covering requirements, and businesses and organizations do not violate this Order if they rely on customer or patron statements.

Law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this Order against individual workers, customers, or patrons. However, if a business or organization does not allow entry to a worker, customer, or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that worker, customer, or patron enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement personnel may enforce the trespassing laws.

North Carolina will pause and continue the Safer At Home Phase 2 for another three weeks. The state will continue to be in Phase 2 until 5 p.m. on July 17, 2020.

The state reported 1,721 additional COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, marking the second highest single-day rise since the pandemic began. At least 56,174 people have now tested positive for the virus in North Carolina since March 3.

Since May 19, the number of people hospitalized has increased 56%, from being in the 500s to now over 900 in just a little over a month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that North Carolina could see a “insidious increase in community spread, which will be much more difficult to contain as the community spread amplifies itself.”

People are now required to wear face coverings in public spaces, whether inside or outside, where physical distancing of six feet is not possible. Full guidance and Frequently asked questions can be found below.

This includes but is not limited to:

Retail Businesses:

Retail businesses must have all workers wear face coverings. Retail businesses must also have all customers wear face coverings when they are inside the establishment and may be within six feet of another person, unless the customer comes under an exception identified in the Order. If a customer states that an exception applies, the retailer should try to make an accommodation. The business may choose to provide curbside service, provide home delivery, allow the customer to enter without a face covering, or use some other reasonable measure to deliver goods.


Restaurants must have all workers wear face coverings. Restaurants must also have all customers wear face coverings when not at their table, unless the customer comes under an exception identified in the Order.

Personal Care, Grooming, and Tattoo Businesses:

Personal care, grooming, and tattoo businesses must have workers wear face coverings. These businesses must also have all customers wear face coverings when they are inside the establishment and may be within feet of another person, unless an individual has an exception as outlined in the Order. If a customer states that an exception applies, the business may choose to have the customer wait outside for his or her appointment rather than sitting in a waiting room. Customers may take off their face coverings if they are receiving a facial treatment, shave, or other services on a part of the head which the face covering covers or by which the face covering is secured.

Child Care Facilities:

Child care, day camps, and overnight camps must have workers and all other adults wear face coverings. All children eleven years and older must also wear face coverings on site unless they have an exception. Children under two should not wear a face covering.

State Government Employees:

State government agencies headed by members of the Governor’s Cabinet must have their on-site workers wear face coverings. Other state and local government agencies are strongly encouraged to adopt similar policies.


All workers and riders on public or private vehicles, as well as all people in North Carolina airports, bus and train stations or stops, must wear face coverings. Passengers will not be denied access to public transportation for failure to use face coverings. This provision does not apply to people traveling alone with household members or friends in their personal vehicles, but does apply to ride-shares like Ubers and Lyfts, cabs, vans, and shuttles, even if the vehicles are privately owned.

Manufacturing, Construction Sites, Agricultural Settings:

Social distancing is difficult where multiple workers are together in manufacturing settings, at construction sites, and in migrant farm, other farm, and agricultural settings. This Order specifies that manufacturing, construction, and agriculture businesses or operations must require workers to wear face coverings.

Meat or Poultry Processing Plants:

All workers in any meat or poultry processing plant, packing plant, or slaughterhouse must wear surgical masks, as long as surgical mask supplies are available. If surgical masks are not available, cloth face coverings must be provided.

Long Term Care Facilities:

All workers in long term care (LTC) facilities, including skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes, family care homes, mental health group homes, and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, must wear surgical masks while in the facility, as long as surgical mask supplies are available. Health care facilities other than LTC facilities must follow the face covering requirements in the CDC Infection Control Guidance for Healthcare Professionals about Coronavirus.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has released guidance to the general public on the use of face coverings, and will make signage available to businesses. Guidance and signage are available at:

A face covering does not need to be worn by a worker, customer, or patron who meets one of the following exceptions:

  • Should not wear a face covering due to any medical or behavioral condition or disability (including, but not limited to, any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to put on or remove the face covering without assistance);
  • Is under eleven years of age;
  • Is actively eating or drinking;
  • Is strenuously exercising;
  • Is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible;
  • Is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience;
  • Is working at home or is in a personal vehicle;
  • Is temporarily removing his or her face covering to secure government or medical services or for identification purposes;
  • Would be at risk from wearing a face covering at work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines;
  • Has found that their face covering is impeding visibility to operate equipment or a vehicle; and/or
  • Is a child whose parent, guardian, or responsible person has been unable to place the face covering safely on the child’s face.
  • No proof or documentation is required if an individual falls into an exception category.

If an individual cannot afford to buy face coverings, a cloth face covering may be sewn by hand or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

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