The Sylva Herald, By Kelly Morgan

Face masks, this year’s most notable fashion statement, have been a mandatory part of North Carolina’s dress code for more than a month.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order June 24 stating that retail businesses must have all customers wear face coverings when they are inside stores and have the potential to be within 6 feet of another person, unless the customer states that an exception applies.

In response, many businesses have clearly stated mandates requiring their customers to wear masks. Sylva’s major corporations and grocery stores, including Ingles, Walmart, Food Lion, Lowe’s, Sav-Mor and Harold’s all require masks unless customers have medical exceptions. Some even provides customers free masks at the door.

Drugstores including Walgreens, CVS, Kel-Save, Mark’s Pharmacy and Eastgate have stated mask requirements, as have downtown businesses including Sassy Frass, City Lights Bookstore, Baxley’s Chocolates and others. In Your Ear Music Emporium sells masks for $1 to customers who don’t have them.

However, Sylva Chief of Police Chris Hatton said law enforcement cannot directly enforce the executive order.

“We can’t make people wear masks,” he said. “We can’t file a charge if they’re not wearing one. Where the strength in that order comes from is when, for example, you go into a business and you say you don’t want to wear a mask. The business requires you to have a mask on, so the business tells you that if you’re going to be in their store, you need to wear a mask. If you say, ‘I’m not going to do that; I’m not going to comply with that,’ then the business has the right to tell you to leave. If you leave, that’s the end of it. If you refuse to leave, then now you are committing second-degree trespassing, so if you refuse to leave, you are subject to a criminal charge.”

Customers with medical exceptions are allowed to enter stores without masks, and they do not have to prove their exceptions since health details are protected information.

Hatton said he has seen some businesses say, “If you have a medical exception, we’re going to hold you at the door. You tell us what you need, and we’ll work in cooperation with you to get what service you need.”

That being said, businesses still have the general ability to ask people to leave their premises.

So far, the Sylva police have not had to file any trespassing charges on people who refused to wear a mask, but they have dealt with two verbal altercations and one physical altercation over mask-wearing, he said.