On March 24, 2020, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, similar to various other localities, issued a stay-at-home order for the next 21 days to contain the spread of COVID-19. The order begins on March 26, 2020, and continues through April 16, 2020, subject to regular review by county health officials and Emergency Management. Mecklenburg County currently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina.

Mecklenburg County previously declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. The stay-at-home order follows a number of preventive measures that were already put in place, including Governor Roy Cooper declaring a state of emergency in North Carolina on March 10, 2020, and subsequently ordering the closure of all K-12 public schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, salons, and entertainment venues.

Mecklenburg County’s order bans mass gatherings of more than 10 people and requires all county residents to shelter in place in their homes, except for essential activities and essential travel, as defined in the order. Essential businesses and essential government functions are exempt from the order. All nonessential businesses are directed to cease operations but are permitted to continue minimum basic operations. Restaurants are permitted to continue providing takeout orders and delivery service. The order also puts additional restrictions on visits to nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and assisted-living facilities.

The order will be enforced by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which will first attempt to achieve “voluntary cooperation” with the order. If voluntary cooperation cannot be achieved, violations of the order will be considered a class 2 misdemeanor.

Essential Activities

The order has a limited list of “essential activities,” which include the following:

  • Seeking medical treatment and other activities related to health and safety
  • Buying groceries and other household/consumer products
  • Exercising outdoors (while engaging in social distancing); playgrounds are closed
  • Caring for family, friends, or pets in another household
  • Working in essential businesses/operations

Essential Businesses and Operations

The following types of businesses are defined as “essential” and are thus exempt from the provisions requiring businesses to cease all nonessential activities.

  • Healthcare, public health, law enforcement, public safety, and first responders
  • Human service operations, such as long-term care facilities and shelters
  • Food, beverage, and agriculture
  • Grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and general and business supply stores
  • Charitable and social services
  • Energy
  • Water and wastewater
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Public works
  • Communication and information technology
  • Media
  • Educational institutions, for purposes of facilitating distance learning
  • Gas stations and other business needed for transportation
  • Financial institutions
  • Mail, shipping, logistics, delivery, and related services
  • Laundry
  • Critical trades (building and construction)
  • Manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain
  • Transportation for essential activities
  • Residential facilities and shelters
  • Professional services (including legal, accounting, insurance, and real estate (for appraisal and title services))
  • Childcare centers for exempt employees
  • Hotels and motels
  • Funeral services
  • Hazardous materials

Minimum Basic Operations

For those businesses that are not considered “essential” under the order, they may maintain only “minimum basic operations,” which include the following:

  • The minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, preserve the physical condition of the business, ensure security, process payroll/employee benefits, and carry out related functions
  • The minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to work remotely

Key Takeaway

Any business with operations in Mecklenburg County should evaluate whether it is an “essential” or “non-essential” business under the order. While the exemption for “essential” businesses is relatively broad under the order, businesses that fall outside of it may need to quickly determine how to limit their activities to only the defined “minimum basic operations.”

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Critical information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.

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