Everything you need to know about Mecklenburg County’s indoor mask mandate

CHARLOTTE — The city of Charlotte and the unincorporated parts of the county went back under an indoor mask mandate Wednesday, with the rest of the county set to follow suit in 10 days.

Charlotte’s mandate began at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will be in effect until the positivity rate drops to 5% for 30 days, or until the county decides to rescind it.

Shortly after the mask mandate was implemented in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted 6-2 to implement the same mandate across the entire county. The current mandate includes unincorporated parts of the county, but in 10 days it will be expanded to every town in the county.

The mandate requires face coverings to be worn in any indoor public place, business or establishment within the city of Charlotte and the unincorporated areas of Mecklenburg County, regardless of vaccination status.

The requirement applies to anyone 4 or older.

There are some exceptions to the face covering mandate. Face coverings do not need to be worn by someone who:

  • 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 actively eating or drinking;
  • Is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible;
  • Is giving a speech or performance for a broadcast, or to an audience, where they maintain a distance of at least 20 feet from the audience (the audience is still required to wear a face covering if indoors);
  • Is temporarily removing their face coverings at work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulations or workplace safety guidelines;
  • Has found their face covering is impeding visibility to operate equipment or a vehicle

Mecklenburg County will also exempt worship, religious, spiritual gatherings, funerals, weddings and First Amendment activities.

On Aug. 23, the county clarified that all schools (public, private and parochial) and all businesses (public and private) are now required to wear face coverings in all indoor public places.

The proclamation continues to mandate that face coverings be worn in any indoor public place, business, or establishment within the City of Charlotte and the unincorporated areas of Mecklenburg County, regardless of vaccination status.

Unlike the state’s previous order, there is no exemption for strenuous exercise, which means masks will be required in gyms.

Anyone who doesn’t wear a face covering for any of the exemptions will not be required to produce documentation or any other proof of a condition. Everyone is asked to tell the truth.

If someone is healthy and able to wear a face covering, officials ask that they do so to prevent putting other people at risk of serious illness and death.

The county said anyone who violates the order could face criminal penalties. The health director also has the ability to shut down businesses if they present a health hazard.

The Mecklenburg County COVID-19 Policy Group met on Monday to discuss the state of the coronavirus in the community. The policy group guides the county’s and the county’s municipalities’ response to the pandemic.

Following Monday’s meeting, several Mecklenburg County leaders, including County Manager Dena Diorio and County Health Director Gibbie Harris, held a news conference where they announced their recommendation to implement indoor mask mandates first in Charlotte and then across the entire county.

Shortly after the news conference, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles released a statement saying she was instituting an indoor mask mandate in the Queen City that would go into effect on Wednesday.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic I have said that I will rely on the medical and healthcare experts to guide our decisions for our community,” the statement read. “Based on feedback from the Public Health Department, Atrium Health, Novant Health and Medic, it is important that we take additional measures to help protect our residents and community.”

Lyles also said she fully supports a countywide mask mandate, which she believes would create a consistent policy across Mecklenburg County and reduce confusion among residents.

Prior to the mandate, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were requiring masks inside all government buildings.

Harris said COVID-19 cases have risen high and fast enough that she thinks it is time to get the community’s attention with a mandate.

“We were hoping that wouldn’t be necessary,” she said. “We were depending on the community to move forward.”

The unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County will also go under the indoor mask mandate, starting Wednesday. The rest of the county will join on Aug. 28.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Health held a special meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday where it approved a public health rule that requires face coverings for all of Mecklenburg County.

Just before the vote, anti-mask supporters were escorted out of the Government Center by police for interrupting the meeting. Of the nearly two dozen people addressing commissioners, all but one was opposed to the mandate.

“I will not comply. I will not be a jerk to people who are trying to comply. And if they won’t allow me to shop at their stores or go indoors in certain places, then so be it. I’ll go somewhere else,” said Jake Packett.

But prior to those comments, County Commission Chair George Dunlap showed little sympathy for those who choose not to follow the order.

“Woe is he who fails to comply, who gets the virus and that be your death knell,” he said.

The indoor mask mandate goes into effect in 10 days and includes all towns in the county -- even the ones reluctant to implement one, like Cornelius.

“I do not think it is the right thing to do for our town to mandate the masks because I think our citizens are smart enough to do the right thing,” Cornelius Commissioner Tricia Sisson said.

Consensus was not required for the countywide mask mandate to be put in place.

During Monday’s news conference, Diorio said towns can pass mask mandates sooner if they wish.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman said now’s the time to mandate masks.

“We absolutely have to do the work now to stop this escalation that we’re seeing,” Altman said. “It’s really going up very quickly.”

Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham would like to see all Mecklenburg municipalities on the same page.

“I think that’s the only way that it would be enforceable and effective,” he said. “We do it as one.”

On Thursday, Davidson commissioners unanimously voted to follow Charlotte and Mecklenburg County’s mask mandate, effective immediately.

The town of Matthews commissioners also voted Thursday, 5-2, to follow the county’s mask mandate, effective Friday at 5 p.m.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said residents there are not in favor of requiring masks again.

“Most people in Huntersville have gotten vaccines, and a lot of them have already had COVID,” he said. “I think we shouldn’t have to mandate masks.”

The burden of enforcement will ultimately fall on businesses and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

CMPD said officers will continue to manage COVID-related complaints on a case-by-case basis. The department said it would issue citations as a last measure.

“I think we will have a high level of compliance this time because I think everybody understands what’s at risk,” Diorio said. “And what’s at risk is if we don’t get ahead of the virus we are looking at potentially, we don’t want this, additional restrictions and additional restrictions have economic impacts.”

Evening Muse owner Joe Kuhlmann never wants to see that happen again.

“We were closed down for 420 days,” he said. “It was extremely taxing on us mentally and financially.”

His music venue was one of the first Charlotte businesses to require masks after the CDC guidance changed and on top of that is now requiring a vaccine or negative COVID test for entry.

But he told Channel 9 that he can’t do it on his own. He said it will take a community effort to get the metrics under control.

“It doesn’t matter if one or two businesses are doing it,” Kuhlmann said. “It really has to be something where we are all pulling in the same direction.”

According to Mecklenburg County, the policy group that made the recommendation is convened by County Manager Dena Diorio with assistance from Health Director Gibbie Harris and Public Health Chief Wike Graham with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management. Other members of the group include Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones; town managers from Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings; Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson; Mecklenburg EMS Director Joe Penner; Sheriff Garry McFadden; representatives from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Atrium Health, Novant Health and Mecklenburg County Courts, plus Mecklenburg County Public Health staff and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Staff as necessary. Members can appoint a designee if they are not able to attend.

Monday’s meeting was closed to the public.

Diorio said the policy group did not consider requiring vaccines for entry instead of masks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: If I am indoors but am socially distanced or not close to others, do I still have to wear a mask?

A: Yes. If you are in a public indoor space, you are required to wear a mask regardless of social distancing and/or your vaccination status.

Q: If I own a business, do I have to require customers to wear a mask?

A: Yes. You must require customers who do not fit in to one of the exemptions to wear a mask while at your establishment.

Q: As a business owner, what should I do if I have customers who refuse to comply AND refuse to leave the premises?

A: Call 911 to request Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to respond for trespassing.

Q: How long will this mask mandate be in effect?

A: This mandate goes into effect at 5 p.m. today and will remain in effect until at least September 1, 2021. The Public Health Rule that will be voted on today will go into effect in 10 days, if passed. Both mandates are based on the current COVID-19 metrics and the duration of the Public Health Rule will be dependent on the metrics improving.

Q: If I live in one of the towns in Mecklenburg County, do I have to follow the current mask mandate?

A: If the mask mandate is not in effect in your town, you are not required to wear a mask indoors at public places in that town. However, if you travel into the City of Charlotte or an unincorporated area of Mecklenburg County, you will need to have a mask if you plan to visit a public indoor space.

Q: Do I have to wear mask at Panthers games?

A: The Carolina Panthers have issued protocols at Bank of America requiring that all guests and staff must wear a mask in indoor spaces, including the indoor concourses on the 300 and 400 levels. Face Coverings are not required outdoors. Masks will be available at stadium entrance points as well as at guest relations and security booths. Guests who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in all areas.

Q: I’m unvaccinated – should I still consider getting the vaccine?

A: Yes. The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County urge all eligible people who are unvaccinated to get the vaccine to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid further restrictions.

Q: Who should I call for questions about the mask mandate?

A: You can direct further questions to the Mecklenburg County Public Health COVID-19 hotline at 980-314-9400. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More information about the mask mandate, the vaccine and COVID-19 can be found here.

Read Mayor Vi Lyles full statement below:

“Since the beginning of this pandemic I have said that I will rely on the medical and healthcare experts to guide our decisions for our community. Based on feedback from the Public Health Department, Atrium Health, Novant Health and Medic, it is important that we take additional measures to help protect our residents and community. I’ve spoken with George Dunlap and Gibbie Harris and I support their approach to create a county-wide mask mandate, which would create a consistent policy across Mecklenburg County and reduce confusion among our residents. The soonest this could go into effect would be 12 days from today, so in partnership with George Dunlap and Mecklenburg County, I am instituting a mask mandate that will go into effect on Wednesday, August 18 and will bridge the gap between Wednesday and when a county-wide mandate could go into effect.

More than 1,000 of our friends and loved ones have died from COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County – and people continue to die. One of the reasons we are doing this is that we are a community of families with children and we care deeply about the health of children as they begin school. We are also doing this to support the people who work in our city and this is a way for our businesses to remain open. We will work with and support our business community through this time.

For some of the people I represent in this city, this is a matter of life or death. I’ve read the emails and the letters that come to my office, with stories of personal tragedy. We have to remember there are people who are medically unable to get a vaccine and they are relying on the rest of us to do our part to stop the spread of the virus before it infects them or their loved ones. I received one email from a worried grandmother with a grandchild suffering from an immune system disorder. Members of our community are so concerned that they are writing to me, pleading for help. Today, our community has taken a step forward to giving them the peace of mind they deserve.

It is not an overstatement to say that getting a vaccine and wearing a mask is a matter of life and death. We need more people in our community to get vaccinated, which is the best way for us to get back to normal for the long-term. Unless we do better on getting shots in arms, this won’t be the last time we have to mandate masks or other measures. With you, we can get to a better place. Getting a vaccine supports your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Please get vaccinated and please wear a mask.”

(WATCH: CDC recommends masks be worn in schools regardless of vaccination status)