North Carolina could ban face masks for medical reasons in public

May 15, 2024

The North Carolina state Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to ban anyone from wearing masks in public, even for health reasons.

Republican supporters of the ban said it would help law enforcement crack down on protesters who wear masks. They say demonstrators are abusing COVID-19 pandemic-era practices to hide their identities following a wave of pro-Palestine protests nationwide and at North Carolina universities.

The bill goes even further and repeals an exception that’s been state law since the early stages of the pandemic that allows people to wear masks in public for health and safety reasons.

Thirty senators voted in favor of House Bill 237, while 15 opposed it and five were absent.

Democrats raised concerns about the bill, particularly for those who are immunocompromised or those who may want to continue to wear masks during cancer treatments, WRAL News reported.

State Sen. Sydney Batch (D) is a cancer survivor and shared with her fellow senators how her family wore masks to protect her and her weakened immune system during treatment.

She and other Democrats proposed ways to amend the bill so police could still crack down on protesters but continue to have legal protections for health concerns, but they were shot down, the outlet reported.

GOP Sen. Buck Newton brushed off the concerns, saying no one saw “Granny getting arrested in the Walmart pre-COVID” and thinks law enforcement will use “good common sense” when applying the law, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The AP noted that the state’s general statutes on masking date back to the 1950s in an attempt to curb Ku Klux Klan membership, when the state passed a public masking ban.  

Under the bill, if a person is arrested for protesting while masked, it would elevate the classification of a person’s crime, either a misdemeanor or felony, to one class higher.

It now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. Cooper, a Democrat, could veto the bill, but the North Carolina Republican Party has a supermajority and can override the expected veto.