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Public Health Rule Requiring Face Coverings in all Indoor Public Places

The New Hanover County Health and Human Services (HHS) Board will reconsider the public health rule requiring face coverings in all indoor public places within the county. The public is invited to provide comments and feedback by noon on Monday, November 8.

Submit public comment

Scroll down to read frequently asked questions

Report non-compliance with the order

Signs for Businesses

Businesses and workplaces can download official county signage to post in prominent places, to help educate and inform residents and visitors about the new face covering requirement here or linked below.


Why are face coverings required right now?

Simply put, to prevent severe illness and to save lives.  

New COVID-19 cases, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospitalizations and deaths in New Hanover County have risen drastically in recent weeks, threatening the health and safety of our entire community. To turn this alarming trend around, we must act collectively to protect each other.   

When local hospitals and emergency rooms are close to capacity with COVID-19 patients, it impacts more than just those with the virus. This stress on our healthcare system has a ripple effect on other life-saving medical procedures, surgeries, and practices.  

We’ve used these protective measures before with the 3 Ws – wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing our hands – except this time we have the benefit of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to add to our toolkit.  

By wearing a mask when indoors in public and layering that with protection built from COVID-19 vaccines, we can collectively help protect those that cannot be vaccinated yet or are most at risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.  

Where are face coverings required under the health rule?

Face coverings are required in all indoor public places throughout the county, including but not limited to offices and workplaces, public and private schools, business establishments, shops, private clubs, gyms, restaurants, bars, meeting and event spaces, public transportation and facilities, and anywhere the public can assemble indoors.  

This rule applies to all of New Hanover County, which includes the unincorporated areas of the county, the City of Wilmington, and Towns of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach.  

Who is required to wear a face covering?

The face covering requirement is in place for all residents and visitors ages 2 and over, regardless of vaccination status, when in any indoor public space.  This order is directly in line with CDC recommendations for ages and exemptions

Exemptions to the face covering requirement are listed below, as approved by the CDC: 

  • Anyone with a medical or behavioral condition or disability, including difficulty breathing. 
  • Children under two years old. 
  • Children under five years old, if a parent, guardian, or responsible person has been unable to place and maintain a face covering safely on the child’s face. 
  • Anyone who is actively eating or drinking. 
  • Anyone who is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible. 
  • Anyone 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. 
  • Anyone at home or in a personal vehicle. 
  • Anyone who must temporarily removing their face covering for identification purposes to secure government or medical services. 
  • Anyone who would be at risk from wearing a face covering at work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulations or workplace safety guidelines, or who has found that their face covering is impeding visibility to operate equipment or a vehicle. 
  • Anyone alone in an enclosed space, such as a room, office or vehicle. 
  • Anyone participating in worship, religious, spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights. 

If I’m vaccinated, why do I have to wear a mask?

The face covering requirement is in place for all residents and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to protect everyone in our community from the rapid spread of COVID-19.  

With high levels of viral spread in our community, as defined by the CDC, everyone is advised to wear a mask when indoors until more people are vaccinated to protect each other from severe illness from COVID-19. Fully vaccinated individuals have a strong layer of protection built from the COVID-19 vaccine, but no vaccine gives 100% protection. When all of us do our part, by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, we increase protection to those most vulnerable in our community.  

Is this order legal?

Yes. The public health rule approved by the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board is authorized under North Carolina General Statute Chapter 130 and allows the board to create a rule to protect and promote the public health.

Do I have to wear a face covering outdoors?

Face coverings are not required by the order when outdoors but are recommended when you around other people that do not live in your household, and especially in crowded spaces and when around those that are unvaccinated.  

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

Yes. You must require customers who do not fit in to one of the exemptions to wear a mask while at your establishment. Signs notifying customers that masks are required can be downloaded here, for you to hang at your entrance and throughout your building, if needed. 

We understand that enforcing compliance can be difficult, and we ask businesses to do their best by posting signs, reminding customers who do not have a face covering on, and offering face coverings for customers at your entrance. 

As a business owner, what should I do if customers, who are not exempt from the rule, refuse to comply?

We suggest you offer them services curbside, by phone or virtually where possible. If someone continues to not comply and refuses to leave your premise after you have asked them to leave, you can call 9-1-1 to report the person for violating the order of abatement. 

Do employees working in cubicles in the office need to be masked?

For those working in a private office or another enclosed space without anyone else around, the person is not required to wear a face covering. But if someone enters the office, a face covering must be worn. For those working in cubicles that do not have enclosed walls, masks must be worn regardless of a person’s distance from others. 

How is this face covering order being enforced?

The health rule is enforced by New Hanover County Health and Human Services and local law enforcement.

The goal of enforcement is first to educate and inform about the health rule and answer questions about compliance. Local law enforcement will be contacted for intervention only when the rule continues to be violated following educational outreach.

Violations of this order can be considered an immediate danger to health and safety or a misdemeanor pursuant to North Carolina General Statute 130A-25. 

How do I report non-compliance with the rule?

To report non-compliance, a resident can submit a complaint online.

Complaints will receive appropriate follow-up by New Hanover County Health and Human Services or local law enforcement as deemed necessary.

How long will this rule be in place?

There is no set expiration date for the health rule at this time. The duration will be dependent on the community’s COVID-19 metrics improving, including – but not limited to – hospitalizations, case counts, and percent positivity rate. The goal is to reach a five percent or lower percent positivity rate, ensure the hospital system is not overwhelmed, and for overall case counts to be trending downward or remaining level without continued increases or spikes. The Health and Human Services Board will continue to monitor these key metrics and will reconvene to discuss and rescind the rule when the county COVID-19 metrics are within acceptable and manageable ranges.

When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated

In general, people are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine

If you don’t meet the requirements above, you are NOT fully vaccinated. Keep taking all precautions until you are fully vaccinated.

You can resume activities, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. You will still need to follow guidance at your workplace and local businesses.

You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others.

If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms. However, if you live or work in a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.

What To Do If You’re Unvaccinated

You should wear a mask, even if you do not feel sick. This is because several studies have found that people with COVID-19 who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic) and those who are not yet showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can still spread the virus to other people. Wearing a mask helps protect those around you, in case you are infected but not showing symptoms.

It is especially important to wear a mask when you are indoors with people you do not live with and when you are unable to stay at least 6 feet apart since COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another. Limit gatherings with unvaccinated individuals you do not live with. If you do gather, do so while wearing face coverings and outside, if possible.

Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household, but you should continue to wear a mask inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19. Get tested and quarantine if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is a way to reach out to people who have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Public Health performs contact tracing for every identified positive case of COVID-19 in New Hanover County. They ask about anyone else that may have recently been near or in close contact with a positive case. Each of these steps allows us to identify potential cases and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Public Health will reach out to people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and share any information and support they may need to stay at home until the risk of giving the virus to others has passed. Any text messages from Public Health contact tracers will come from the number 45394. Emails will come from the email address If the Team reaches out with a phone call, “New Hanover County” or “Unknown” will appear on the Caller ID. A message will be left if contact is not made, so be sure to keep up regularly with voicemails.

Name and other personal information are confidential and will remain private. The COVID-19 Community Team will never ask for anyone’s Social Security Number, bank or credit card numbers, or any other financial information at any time. If you are asked for this information, please hang up and call your local health department to report the incident.

It is important that we all continue to do our part to protect our friends, family, and loved ones and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community. COVID-19 vaccines are safe & effective at protecting you from getting sick. The more people who are vaccinated as soon as possible, the less opportunity the virus has to spread and form new variants. Getting vaccinated will help us get closer to herd immunity and help us end this pandemic.

Health: 1650 Greenfield Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-3500 • Fax 910-798-7834 • Human Services Fax 910-798-7824
Environmental Health: 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 140 • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-6667 • Fax 910-798-7815
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