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Fact check: North Carolina did NOT ban face masks in May 2024

Fact check: North Carolina did NOT ban face masks in May 2024

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Did North Carolina implement a statewide face mask ban in May 2024, as reported on Instagram claimed? No, that’s not true: the post in question exaggerates the impact of a bill that would decide who can legally wear a face mask in public and for what reasons. The Senate passed a version of the measure, but as of May 2024, the state House had not. Therefore, at the time of writing, there is no statewide ban.

The claim included a photo of a crowd of masked people in an Instagram post on May 18, 2024 (archived here). The image contained a text overlay that read:

MASKS BANNED IN NORTH CAROLINA DUE TO CRIMINAL CONCERNS

Here’s how the message appeared at the time of writing:

Screenshot 06-06-2024 at 8:16:15.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thursday June 6 08:16:15 2024 UTC)

The message exaggerates the impact of House Bill 237 (archived here), which was first introduced on March 2, 2023.

On May 15, 2024, the Senate passed a version of the bill that called for ending an exemption to a 1953 law that banned the wearing of masks in public except in certain settings. This particular exception, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed citizens to wear masks in public, citing public health concerns. On May 22, 2024, the state House voted to disagree with the version of the bill that repealed the 2019 exemption, instead sending the bill back to committee for review. On June 6, 2024, the bill was reintroduced in language that would allow for the exemption of medical or surgical grade masks to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

In his initial shape (archived here), HB 237 sought to increase penalties for a person convicted of a crime while wearing a hood or mask. It passed (archived here) the House of Representatives on May 3, 2023.

After more than a year in the Senate, HB 237 was passed altered (archived here) to amend a 1953 North Carolina law forbidden (archived here) people wearing face coverings in public places. The 1953 law states:

§ 14-12.7. Wearing masks, hoods, etc. on public roads.

No person or persons of at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing a mask, hood or device in which the person, face or voice is disguised to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter any lane, walkway, located or appearing, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this state.

There is a list of them exemptions (filed here) to the above law, including traditional holiday costumes in season, work where a mask is necessary for safety, theater productions or ceremonies. In 2019, lawmakers voted to add another exemption (archived here) during the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed people to wear masks in public for the purpose of “ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.”

On May 15, 2024, the Republican-led North Carolina Senate took place passed (archived here) a version of the bill that called for removing the 2019 exemption; the Instagram post refers to this mood.

On May 22, 2024, the House did not vote for it at sometime (archived here) with the Senate version of the bill, returning the proposed legislation to committee (archived here) for possible revision.

A newly revised version of the bill was published on June 6, 2024 adopted per committee, that changed (archived here) the language of the 2019 waiver::

Every person who has a medical or surgical grade mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

At the time of writing, it is unclear when or if the new bill will be voted on.

At the time this was written, USA today had investigated the same claim.

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