By Yustin Riopko
MATTHEWS – Police Chief Clark Pennington described the town’s approach to Gov. Roy Cooper’s new orders as “education first, enforcement as necessary.”
“I do think we’re doing pretty good here in the town,” Pennington told town commissioners Dec. 14. “We went out and proactively printed fliers that our officers were doing proactive COVID-19 checks of businesses. We were going in and if we were seeing anything that was not in compliance, we were immediately correcting and educating, and then following up. We weren’t seeing a repeat of those violations.”
Cooper signed Executive Order No. 181 Dec. 8 to take effect Dec. 11. The order requires N.C. residents to continue wearing masks in public, as well as close shop and stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Bars have to close at 9 p.m.
These orders come in response to an increase in reported COVID-19 cases, which Town Manager Hazen Blodgett suspects reflects a Thanksgiving Day surge.
Confirmed COVID-19 and cases and deaths in North Carolina have surpassed 445,000 and 4,900 respectively. Mecklenburg has seen the most cases and deaths of any N.C. county – more than 52,600 cases and 490 deaths. Wake County follows with over 35,700 cases and 320 deaths.
Mayor Pro Tem Renee Garner said COVID-19 vaccinations will be distributed in waves. The state is receiving 85,000 doses and will prioritize workers who interact directly with COVID-19 patients. In the following weeks, vaccines will also go out to EMTs and EMS, citizens in congregational living, adults with two or more chronic conditions, and frontline workers like police, firefighters, and teachers.
In the meantime, N.C. Health and Human Services director Mandy Cohen has called Matthews, pressing the town to enforce state orders.
Mayor John Higdon said the town doesn’t intend to be out there cracking a whip.
“We’re really relying on folks to look out for one another and do the right thing,” Higdon said. “Police have more important things to work on than checking to see if everybody’s got a mask on. For those areas where we do see blatant abuse, the chief will get involved as we receive complaints.”