Officials see pushback as more states, counties require people to wear masks in public
After Gov. Roy Cooper issued a mandatory mask requirement across North Carolina on Wednesday amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state, several sheriffs publicly said they would not enforce the mandate when it goes into effect on Friday.
The sheriff of Sampson County said the rule is “not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable.” The sheriff of Iredell County echoed that sentiment.
The Burke County Sheriff’s Office said it “will not be enforcing violations of the order.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings, along with social distancing and handwashing, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
As states continue to loosen restrictions, facial coverings have become a common requirement for employees, customers, or both. In almost every state, masks are required to some degree, as reflected by the movement #Masks4All.
This week, Palm Beach County in South Florida issued a countywide mask mandate. Facial coverings are now required in all businesses and government buildings, while using public transportation, and in public when social distancing is not possible. The emergency order noted that the county saw a “sharp increase” in positive COVID-19 cases in late May and June. The county has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Florida after Broward and Miami-Dade.
Palm Beach County commissioners unanimously passed the mandate on Tuesday, with one commissioner saying the majority of calls and emails she received were in favor of it, according to the Palm Beach Post. Still, the vote was preceded by protesters shouting “Freedom,” and dozens of local residents heatedly testified against mask-wearing during a more than three-hour public comment session.
“You do not have the authority to govern my body,” one said.
“You guys are overstepping your boundaries,” said another.
Several Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Orange, have been sued for mandating masks. One lawyer told West Palm Beach ABC affiliate WPBF that there are plans to file suit this week against Palm Beach County.
A day after the Palm Beach County vote, demonstrators in Arizona gathered outside Scottsdale’s city hall to protest recent mask mandates from the city and its county, Maricopa. The Arizona county voted last Friday to require face coverings while in public due to increasing cases of COVID-19. According to the order, Maricopa County had 2,055 new cases on June 19, compared to 137 on June 1.
The protest was led by a local councilman, Guy Phillips, and some 200 people attended, according to the Arizona Republic.
Phillips addressed the crowd by saying, “I can’t breathe,” before taking his mask off and uttering, “Insanity.” He then went on to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, saying, “Anyone who would give up his freedom for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”
Phillips has since apologized for using the words “I can’t breathe,” which were spoken by George Floyd before he died at the hands of Minneapolis police last month.
Mask mandates have been a contentious issue throughout the pandemic, at times resulting in violence. Some health officials have walked back mask mandates following public opposition. In late April, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine quickly rescinded a statewide order requiring face masks be worn in stores, instead saying masks are strongly recommended.
In California, three counties — Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino — have all rescinded mask requirements in recent weeks following backlash. The health official who issued Orange County’s mask order, Dr. Nichole Quick, resigned earlier this month following threats and protests outside her home. Last week, the California Department of Public Health issued a mask order requiring face coverings in most indoor settings and outdoors.
“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”
This week, the governor resumed his coronavirus briefings as cases and hospitalizations in the state continued to climb. Hospitalizations were up 32% over the past 14 days, Newsom said Thursday.
Not all demonstrations have been against mask orders. On Thursday, entertainers gathered on the Las Vegas Strip as part of a new pro-mask campaign, #MaskUp4NV, a day before Nevada’s new mask mandate was scheduled to take effect.
“The entertainment community has been one of the hardest-hit in the pandemic,” organizer Greg Chase of Experience Strategy Associates told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We are here to remind everyone that if we wear masks, we can come back quicker.”
ABC News’ Ahmad Hemingway, Mina Kaji, Ben Stein and Alex Stone contributed to this report.