Free Mask for Tuesday (copy)

Greensboro city clerk Angela Lord gives away masks at the Melvin Municipal Office Building in Greensboro on April 30.

GREENSBORO — Mayor Nancy Vaughan issued an emergency proclamation today requiring face coverings in the city limits.

City officials say people without masks won’t be legally penalized, but that the proclamation’s intent “is to encourage voluntary compliance.”

The proclamation takes effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Vaughan said this afternoon that she has been paying close attention to daily reports on the number of COVID-19 cases in Guilford County and the state and she felt it was time to act.

“I think people should’ve expected it,” Vaughan said. “As a council, we’ve been discussing it and we’ve watched the numbers climb in the past week. They’re not going in the right direction.”

As of 3 p.m. today, the Guilford County Department of Public health said it has been notified of 2,425 cumulative cases of COVID-19 and verified 101 deaths. These numbers represent increases of 105 new cases but no additional deaths since Friday.

Vaughan said under the state of emergency she declared in March, the mayor can enact a requirement for face coverings without a vote by City Council.

“It didn’t require a council vote but certainly council was aware. They are in agreement,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan said many people with coronavirus are asymptomatic and can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.

“This means the virus can spread between people speaking, coughing or sneezing. By wearing a mask, you are doing your part to help keep your family, neighbors and community safe,” she said in a news release issued around 5 p.m.

The city advised that a face covering should cover the nose and mouth and can be secured with ties or straps or wrapped around the lower face. It can be made of a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen. A cloth face covering may be factory-made or sewn by hand or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

It's not required to wear face coverings during individual exercise outdoors, or while walking or exercising with other people from the same household, as long as social distance from others is maintained, the city said.

All restaurant, personal care, grooming, tattoo, and retail employees and staff shall wear a face covering while on duty, the proclamation said. It is recommended that all businesses require customers to wear a face covering inside the business, the city said.

Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson was one of the first city officials to wear a mask to a public event in March.

She said today that wearing a mask is the right, and sensible, thing to do.

Johnson said that if health workers who take care of COVID-19 patients are wearing their masks throughout the community, “there must be something to it.”

The mayor “wants people to be safe, and all you can do is encourage it,” Johnson said. “You can say it, but it doesn’t mean you can hold people responsible.”

City Councilman Justin Outling said, “I believe most people do their best to follow the rules they are aware of, even if they disagree with those rules.

“Here, I expect most people to do their best to follow the rules, which through the mayor’s proclamation will now require them to wear face coverings.”

City Attorney Chuck Watts said that he had been working on the resolution for several days and modeled it after those passed in other cities.

Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Kinston and Knightdale are among the cities across the state that are encouraging the wearing of face masks.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said today he could make a similar order on Tuesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper said last week that he could release a proposal Tuesday that would include a statewide mandate for face masks.

In Greensboro, face coverings must to be worn anytime a person will be in contact with others in public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain proper social distancing, the proclamation said. These places include grocery stores, pharmacies, businesses, parking lots, sidewalks and public transit.

Watts said “the city could penalize somebody, but the order doesn’t call for that. The city has the power to take any step under the emergency order and can impose sanctions. (Vaughan’s) not doing that. It’s strong encouragement. It’s a recommendation but it does not include any punishment.”

The proclamation, in addition to giving detailed advice on where and how to wear a face covering, says, “law enforcement and other public safety and emergency management personnel are strongly encouraged to educate and encourage voluntary compliance with this order.”

Vaughan said she will monitor COVID-19 cases to determine when to end the order.

“It will depend on conditions,” she said.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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