RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced June 24 that due to North Carolina’s increasing COVID-19 numbers, the state will remain in Phase 2 of the statewide reopening plan for three more weeks, and face coverings will now be required to be worn in public.

Contingent on the state’s COVID-19 metrics, Phase 2 was originally planned to continue until June 26, when Phase 3 was set to begin, allowing the lifting of more COVID-19-related restrictions. But Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen have repeatedly warned in recent weeks that North Carolina’s metrics — include numbers of new cases each day, percentage of tests that are positive and daily numbers of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 — have been moving in the wrong direction.

“The numbers we see are a stark warning, and I’m concerned. It’s clear that our numbers will keep us from moving ahead into the next phase of easing restrictions,” Cooper said at a press briefing. “This is not where we planned to be, or wanted to be. But it is one of two important decisions that we need to make to effectively fight this disease.”

According to Cooper, people must wear face coverings when in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of six feet from other people who aren’t in the same household or residence isn’t possible. They 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 younger than 11, people who are at home and people who are walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others, Cooper said.

“Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet,” Cooper said. “This is a simple way to control this virus while we protect ourselves and the people around us. Required face coverings not only cause zero harm to our economy — they in fact help our economy by making it safer to shop, do business, and keep our small businesses running.

“We’re adding this new requirement because we don’t want to go backward,” Cooper added. “We want to stabilize our numbers so we can continue to safely ease restrictions, and most importantly, get our children back in school.”

Cooper noted that on June 23, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert on the White House coronavirus task force, told a U.S. House committee that North Carolina could see an “insidious increase in community spread, which will be much more difficult to contain as the community spread amplifies itself.”

The Blowing Rocket will provide updates for this story as they are made available.

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