An Update on Face Covering Requirements in Courthouses (and Elsewhere)

A week ago, I noted that Chief Justice Paul Newby had renewed several emergency directives, including Emergency Directive 21, which required that persons in a court facility wear a face covering while in common areas of the courthouse. That changed on Friday, following the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that fully vaccinated people can safely resume most indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask. By order issued and effective on Friday, May 14, 2021, Chief Justice Newby eliminated Emergency Directive 21 altogether.

May 14, 2021 order. The Chief Justice’s May 14 order modifies his May 10 order to eliminate Emergency Directive 21. The remaining directives in the May 10 order remain in place. The Chief Justice’s latest order states that the decision of whether face coverings will be required in court facilities is left to the “informed discretion of local court officials,” with the senior resident superior court judge serving as the arbiter of disagreements among local court officials over face covering requirements.

Executive Order No. 215. Courthouses were not the only venues for which face covering requirements were lifted last week. On Friday, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 215, effective at 1:30 p.m. that day, eliminating the statewide face covering requirement for most businesses and operations as well as lifting capacity limitations and social distancing requirements. The Governor’s order cited the latest CDC guidance, the fact that more than half of all North Carolinians have received one vaccination dose, and the enforcement concerns raised by the difficulty in distinguishing vaccinated from unvaccinated people. Face covering requirements remain in place for: (1) primary, middle, and secondary schools; (2) child-care facilities; (3) children’s day and overnight camps; (4) health care facilities; (5) public and private transportation regulated by the State, airports, bus and train stations and stops, and ride-shares, cabs, vans and shuttles; and (6) state and local correctional and detention facilities and homeless service providers.

The executive order notes that private businesses and local governments may continue to require face coverings in settings for which there is no statewide mask mandate.

A comprehensive chart. My colleague, Meredith Smith, created a reference chart (available here) that is helpful in keeping track of COVID-related emergency directives governing court operations. Meredith updated the chart on Friday — making her twenty-first update since June 2020!