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North Carolina lawmakers feud over wearing masks

House minority leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, is seen wearing a mask on the House floor in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.

(The Center Square) – The debate over mask wearing has become an ongoing feud in North Carolina’s General Assembly as Republicans and Democrats argue over the need for strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Senate Republicans on Monday lashed out at their Democratic counterparts, calling them “hypocrites” after the spat over mask wearing migrated to Twitter.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill into law that reverses North Carolina’s ban on face masks as his face covering COVID-19 mandate is scheduled to expire Friday.

“The overwhelming support for this legislation demonstrates support among state leaders for wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Cooper said.

However, some legislators have not worn masks while at the state Capitol for the legislative session, and it often was mentioned during discussions about COVID-19 regulations.

Lawmakers returned to state Legislature last week to vote on overrides of Cooper’s vetoes of a series of bills that would have reversed his COVID-19 restrictions and reopened businesses that have remained closed.

Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, released a statement Friday to announce a member of the Republican caucus had tested positive for the coronavirus. Sen. Danny Britt later said he was the one who had tested positive.

“I spoke with Sen. Britt at length on Wednesday prior to votes to sustain [the governor’s] veto. I wore a mask, and he didn’t,” Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, tweeted Sunday. “The CDC says to self-quarantine if you may have been exposed to #COVID19. The tough part is not being able to see my wife/kids who had been out of town.”

Senate Republicans released two pictures to the media Monday that show Nickel on the Senate floor without a mask. Nickel can be seen in one photo covering his mouth and nose with his hand.

Republicans also released photos of six other Democrats without their faces covered, including Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, who also tweeted about the lack of masks by Republicans.

Cooper signed an executive order June 24 in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The order kept private bars, gyms, fitness facilities, playgrounds and entertainment venues closed.

The General Assembly passed a bevy of bills to reopen the businesses, often revising pre-existing measures that have been previously introduced. However, Cooper vetoed a handful of the bills July 2.

By signing House Bill 232 on Friday, Cooper added health and safety as an exemption to the state’s no-mask law.

North Carolina law prohibits anyone 16 years old or older from wearing face coverings, including masks or hoodies, in public.

Other exceptions include “traditional” Halloween costumes, masquerade and motorcycle masks, face coverings for trade jobs and other ceremonial purposes.

“This is important as we move forward to limit the spread of the virus so we can educate our children and push the economy forward,” Cooper said.

As of Monday, 7 percent of all the COVID-19 tests reported to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have been positive, totaling 87,528 confirmed cases. The percent of positive tests reported Monday was 10 percent.

Currently, 1,040 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 1,510 people have died.

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