North Carolina’s governor may require masks; critics have been burning masks in protest
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on Monday evening urged North Carolinians to wear masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease, to help the economy reopen and to protect businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.
Tillis’ comments come while Gov. Roy Cooper considers whether to require people to wear masks and as critics of the government’s response to the virus have been burning masks in protest.
"Everyone needs to know: You can help reduce the spread by 80% and we can beat the virus if you just wear something over your nose and mouth when you go out," Tillis, a Republican, told listeners during a telephonic and online town hall meeting Monday evening.
"I don’t want to be the person that gets exposed to somebody who may be older, they may have health conditions -- it would weigh heavy on me to think that I may have been responsible for them getting a case that leads to their death," Tillis said.
As of Tuesday, more than 1,200 deaths in North Carolina have been attributed to COVID-19. Some of those deaths may be due to contact with someone who didn’t practice social distancing, Tillis said.
He said that as of Monday, nearly 54,000 in North Carolina had tested positive for the coronavirus and 37,000 had recovered from its COVID-19 disease.
This was the 50th electronic town hall Tillis has held to talk with North Carolinians about the coronavirus pandemic and take their questions, his staff said. Figures provided by his office say more than 487,000 people have taken part in the town halls since they started several months ago. This averages to about 9,742 people per call.
Meanwhile, North Carolinians are waiting to see if Gov. Cooper, a Democrat, will advance the state to Phase 3 of the reopening process since he imposed restrictions on businesses and personal activity in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Town hall participants on Monday asked Tillis about whether the government would mandate that people wear facemasks and whether gyms and other businesses that remain closed would soon reopen. Last week Cooper discussed requiring masks, and said the decision would have to be made carefully.
Virginia has issued a mask mandate. Tillis said he recently stopped in a convenience store in Virginia while driving to Washington and noted many people were ignoring the mask requirement.
"I had my mask on, and more than half the people -- in a state that has a mandatory mask law -- were not wearing masks," Tillis said.
At best, if North Carolina’s governor orders people to wear masks, usage would increase only by a few percentage points, Tillis said.
Some in North Carolina have strongly opposed the coronavirus restrictions that Cooper ordered in the spring that closed thousands of businesses and put record numbers of people out of work. The harshest critics say the governor’s recommendations to wear a mask or other covering to avoid the spread of the virus are tyranny, and they don’t believe masks are effective.
The ReOpen NC organization has been promoting a Burn Your Mask Challenge on social media to express its members’ opposition to the mask recommendations. A promotional poster has mask-burning instructions and the final step is: "Stand back, watch it burn and be proud of yourself because you are a healthy, free American."
Tillis agreed on Monday the economic shutdown had caused much suffering and he said he wants to the economy to reopen. Masks and social distancing practices will help reopen the state, he said.
"If we see too many cases reported, I’m concerned that we could see stay-at-home orders, and things like that, which is the last thing I want for our economy. And our economic health and our physical health are tightly linked."
Lawsuits are another reason to wear masks, Tillis said. Businesses are being sued, he said, by people who allege they got COVID-19 on their property. If few people on the premises are wearing masks, he said, the lawyers will note that.
Paul Woolverton can be reached at email@example.com and 910-261-4710.