Governor Adds New COVID-19 Social Distancing Regulations for Retailers

As North Carolina citizens and businesses approach the third week of access, travel, and gathering restrictions, Governor Roy Cooper has now issued an Executive Order which implements additional restrictions aimed primarily at retailers.

Executive Order 131 ("the Order") includes new requirements for retailers that have been permitted to remain open to the public under Executive Order 121 and other prior orders issued by the Governor's office, and strongly encourages—but does not mandate—a number of other measures. 

"Additional Social Distancing Requirements"

The Order imposes three additional classes of rules for retailers who meet the definition of "Essential Business."

Emergency Maximum Occupancy – Retailers are now limited to the greater of (i) twenty percent (20%) of the stated fire capacity or (ii) five customers for every one-thousand square feet of the retailer's total square footage, which includes non-customer-facing areas. Retailers must abide by and enforce this maximum and place notice of the Emergency Maximum Capacity in a conspicuous place.

Social-Distancing Markings – Retailers must now mark six foot (6') spacing at cash-register lines and in other "high-traffic areas for customers" inside the establishment. The Order doesn't define high-traffic areas, but it lists deli counters and areas near high-volume products as examples.  Retailers who have met or expect to meet or exceed their Emergency Maximum Occupancy, must mark six foot (6') spaces in a designated line outside their establishment.

Cleaning and Disinfecting – The Order mandates frequent and routine cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas utilizing a disinfectant approved by the EPA for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The Order does not define "frequent" or "routine." 

In order to remain open, the Order provides that retailers must meet these new restrictions, which go into effect on Monday, April 13 at 5:00 p.m. and are set to remain in place until May 13, 2020, unless repealed, replaced, or expanded by additional orders.

In an effort to afford consistency and clarity in standards applied to retailers, the Order expressly provides that it overrides any local orders that may conflict or set a different standard. 

The Order also outlines a number of additional steps that retailers are "strongly" encouraged, but not yet required, to implement.  They include the following:

  • provide and encourage the use of cloth face coverings/masks for employees that are unable to consistently maintain a six-feet (6') distance from others
  • instruct employees to stay home if they are sick
  • mark six feet (6') of spacing in high traffic areas in staff-only portions of premises
  • have hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes/sprays available at entrances and exits
  • have employees wash hands/use hand sanitizer in between transactions/interactions
  • designate exclusive shopping times for seniors and at-risk groups
  • post signs reminding required social distancing
  • provide online ordering, curbside pickup, and no-contact checkout
  • use acrylic/plastic shields at cash registers
  • assist with routing through store aisles

It is unclear if these encouraged efforts will be added to the list of requirements in a subsequent Executive Order.  If you are a business owner affected by these new restrictions and have questions about how they may apply to your business, please contact our COVID-19 Task Force for additional guidance.

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This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

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