GREENSBORO — Mayor Nancy Vaughan has issued an emergency order that reinforces a state mandate requiring the use of face masks and limits the number of people who can be together indoors.
The move comes as COVID-19 cases are rising at an alarming rate in Guilford County and across North Carolina.
Vaughan's order directs local officials to enforce the state regulations with fines and temporary shutdowns of businesses that are not in compliance, the city said Friday in a news release.
"Looking at the positivity rate and the number of beds being used in the Cone Health system, we had to do something to stem the tide," Vaughan said Friday just before the order went into effect at 5 p.m. "We didn't close any businesses. We didn't tighten the restrictions.
"This is strictly about enforcement to what is already in place."
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In addition to reducing indoor gatherings from 25 to 10 people, Gov. Roy Cooper's ongoing order places capacity limits on restaurants, bars, theaters and other venues.
Vaughan's order requires businesses to clearly mark capacity limits at all entrances, post signs requiring face coverings for access, require employees who interact with the public to wear face coverings and provide hand sanitizer.
The penalties as laid out in the mayor's order can be severe. Businesses can be fined $100 for each person found on the premises or within the building that is in violation.
A city official will issue a warning for the first violation.
A second violation would allow the city to order that a business close for 24 hours.
Penalties grow more severe for repeated violations, which include closing a business for as long as 72 hours.
Vaughan stressed that these are civil, not criminal penalties. But she wants to be clear she's trying to send a message to businesses: They will pay a price if they don't follow the guidelines.
"Our goal is compliance, not fines," she said.
Vaughan said City Manager David Parrish is assembling teams of employees who will be ready to enforce the order. The city's goal is to make sure the burden of enforcement doesn't fall on police.
"The police have been very busy and they're responding to a number of different issues," Vaughan said. "It will be good to have other resources to draw from."
She stressed the city isn't out to hurt merchants, but to educate them about COVID-19 safety procedures.
As far as whether these measures will lead to something more severe, Vaughan said not yet.
"This is a moving target and has been for the last nine months," she said. "We're going to do what's in the best interest of the city."
Meanwhile, as the city goes to work enforcing her order, Vaughan said "the staff is already thinking about how they can give greater education to certain businesses. But I can tell you there is no lack of people calling in with complaints."