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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Here's What NC's New Mass Gathering Limit Could Mean For Your Thanksgiving


A new executive ordertakes effect Friday in North Carolina. Most of the state’s coronavirus restrictions stay the same but gatherings will now be limited to 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Here’s how that order might be enforced and what it could mean for your Thanksgiving plans.

Why Did The Governor Reduce The Gathering Size?

Gov. Roy Cooper said that social gatherings, including ones people have at home, are contributing to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the state.

“This is where we’ve seen a large part of the outbreaks,” Cooper said at a press conference on Tuesday. “So part of this lowering from 25 to 10 indoors is to send a signal to those groups that this is a problem.”

People may be less likely to take precautions like wearing a mask or staying six feet apart when they are around their friends and family, the executive order said, which could lead to more viral spread, particularly around holidays like Thanksgiving.

“Reduce the invite list. Space out your tables. Get a COVID test before the event. Or — better yet — connect virtually,” Cooper said Tuesday.

If more than 10 people reside in the same household, that does not count as a mass gathering, according to the order.

Is The Governor Allowed To Limit How Many Guests People Have In Their Homes?

This is a tricky question. The governor has more power during emergency situations, said Rick Su, a University of North Carolina law professor. The state is still under a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, according to Su, there are also different possible legal arguments against the order, including that the order goes so far that it’s as if the government has taken away someone’s personal property, which is illegal.

“The argument here would actually have to be pretty extreme,” Su said. “They have to say that, 'The government, by prohibiting me from inviting 12 people over for a party, has essentially taken my house.'”

Another possible case, according to Su, could cite a right to privacy or the U.S. Constitution’s right to assemble. But he said there’s an opposing argument, too.

“What you’re going to get is, ‘Look, I don’t care whether you’re having a party or not. When you’re having a party that I think is going to affect the health of the state, that’s a concern,’” Su said.

Most legal challenges to the governor’s coronavirus executive orders thus far have been unsuccessful. In May, however, a federal judge allowed churches in North Carolina to open just days after a lawsuit was filed by a religious group claiming the stay-at-home order violated their right to worship freely.

Su said he would expect at least one legal argument against the newest order if there is a big law enforcement crackdown.

“If we’re getting news stories on the day after Thanksgiving about police raiding Thanksgiving parties and breaking them up and then locking up Grandma or something, then there’s going to be a million lawsuits,” Su said.

But in practice, he said, all of the governor’s orders thus far have served “as more of a guidance and advisory than to be aggressively enforced.”

How Will The Order Be Enforced?

The governor’s executive order gives enforcement power to state and local law enforcement officers. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department did not make anyone available for an interview Wednesday but spokesman Stephen Fischbach said in an email that the department’s “response from the beginning has been complaint-driven.”

Fischbach said the “vast majority” of reports so far have not involved any activity that violates the governor’s orders. If someone is violating the rule, Fischbach said CMPD arrests or cites people as a last resort.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.