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FAQ City: What You Can And Can't Do Under North Carolina's Stay-At-Home Order

Nick de la Canal
Even the Hugh McManaway "Gold Man" statue in Myers Park has got the message. All of North Carolina is under a stay-at-home order through the end of April.

Hard to believe that just a month ago, the Charlotte area was still gearing up for all the usual springtime events. Our kitchen calendars still had spaces blocked off for college commencement, spring break, and opening day at the ballpark. Perhaps you were planning to hit the gym or the hair salon to look good for summer.

Now, that's all out the window amid a fast-moving pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order issued by North Carolina's governor.

The North Carolina order has been in effect for about a week, but people still have lots of questions about it. We know because you, our listeners, have been flooding our inbox with them!

In this FAQ City installment, WFAE's health reporter, Claire Donnelly, joins WFAE's Nick de la Canal to answer as many of your questions about the stay-at-home order as we can.

Listen to the discussion in the audio above, or read on for answers.


Why do we have a stay-at-home order?

The purpose is to keep people from interacting with others in person as much as possible. The idea is if fewer people are out in public, the coronavirus will be less likely to quickly spread from person to person, which will keep large groups of people from getting sick at the sick time and overwhelming hospitals. That's what it means to "flatten the curve."

Under the North Carolina order, you must stay in your home unless you're leaving for an "essential" activity (more on that ahead).

Mecklenburg County also issued a stay-at-home order. Is that different from the state order?

The two orders are similar, but the Mecklenburg County order is stricter in some ways. Therefore, Mecklenburg County residents have more rules to follow. Also, the county order is also only effective through April 16, while the state order extends through April 29.

Under the orders, what's considered an "essential" activity?

You can leave your home to buy food or medical supplies, exercise outdoors, care for a friend or family member, take your pet for a walk or to the vet, or visit a doctor. You can also visit a store that sells health and safety products, and help someone else get necessary supplies.

Also, you can leave your home to work for an "essential" business, like a grocery store or pharmacy. The actual list of essential businesses in Mecklenburg County is rather long. Check out the full list on the county website.

What about South Carolina?

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has issued some executive orders closing down "nonessential" businesses and banning short term rentals for people visiting from coronavirus hotspots, but he has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order.


Can home improvement stores like Lowe's or Home Depot remain open? (submitted by Sandy)

Yes. Hardware stores can remain open in both North and South Carolina.

Can realtors still show houses for sale? And can you still sell or buy a home? (submitted by Charles and Hanna)

You can still sell or buy, but in Mecklenburg County you must do business virtually, unless you have already "vested money" into the property. In that case, you may tour the property in person, while practicing good social distancing.

Can furniture stores stay open? (submitted by Garfield)

No. Furniture stores have already closed in North Carolina, and they must close in South Carolina by Monday at 5 p.m. However, it's possible they could remain open if they also sell hardware, as hardware stores are technically considered essential under the North Carolina order.

Can churches remain open? (submitted by Randy and Carl)

Faith-based organizations may remain open for pastoral care, counseling, and funerals. They can also livestream services on-site, while practicing social distancing, of course!

Can vets and animal hospitals continue operating? (submitted by Angela)

Yes. They are considered essential, and you're allowed bring your pet there if the pet is sick or their shots are about to expire.

What about pet supply stores? (submitted by anonymous)

Yes. Businesses that provide food and shelter for animals are also considered essential under the Mecklenburg County order.

Could a massage therapist who works by his or herself still see clients? (submitted by Michael)

No. Both North and South Carolina would require the massage therapist to close. The issue with businesses like salons and massage therapists is that it's impossible for workers to remain six feet away from their clients.

I own a cleaning service. Can I still operate? (submitted by Erica and Cindy)

Yes. Cleaning, laundry, and janitorial services are considered "essential" in both Mecklenburg County and North Carolina.

Can car dealerships still conduct business? (submitted by Nicole and Carol)

Yes, but in Mecklenburg County, car dealerships can make sales only by appointment. They can also still offer repair services.

Can you still visit the car wash? (submitted by Karen)

Yes. The drive-thru kind is probably best. Also, all of Autobell's locations in Charlotte are open, because they're considered a cleaning service.

Are construction workers and landscapers considered essential? (submitted by multiple listeners)

Yes. Construction workers and landscapers are considered essential in North Carolina, and no restrictions have been placed on them in South Carolina.

Is yard waste still getting picked up? (submitted by anonymous)

Sorry. Mecklenburg County has suspended yard waste pickup through at least April 23.

Can liqour stores remain open? (submitted by Joshua)

ABC stores are still open, but are supposed to be following strict social distancing rules. Fun fact: ABC stores have reportedly seen a nearly 30% jump in sales compared with a year ago.

My son works for DoorDash. Can he still work? And can people still receive and pick up food and groceries? (submitted by LaTasha)

Yes. Picking up food and groceries is still allowed, and so are deliveries.

Can I travel out of the city or state to visit a family member or a friend? (submitted by Donna, Clyde and Lillie)

The stay-at-home order allows travel to take care of others and to transport family members. However, if there's no urgent need, and if it goes against the suggestions for social distancing, you should try not to visit friends and family in person.

Can I still go boating on the lake? (submitted by Jennie and Grant)

So long as you're practicing social distancing, you can take your boat out on the water.

Can I visit the greenway, or take my kids to the park? (submitted by multiple listeners)

You can go to parks to walk, run, hike, bike, or get out of the house, but you cannot go to the park to use playground equipment, play a shared sport like basketball or tennis, or use shared surfaces. You can also play on golf courses as they remain open.

Something to keep in mind, though: in the past week, Mecklenburg County has begun zip-tying or locking down park equipment to prevent folks for playing on them. So act responsibly, folks!

I work in Mecklenburg County, but I don't live there (or vice versa). How does this order affect me? (submitted by Manuel and Keiry)

If you work in Mecklenburg County, then your business/employer must comply with the guidelines outlined in the stay-at-home order. You are allowed to travel through the county and conduct essential activities while there, then return home.


Now that we've covered what you can and can't do under the stay-at-home orders, what happens if you decide not to comply? Law enforcement could charge you with a misdemeanor and issue you a citation, as they did to a group of protestors in Greensboro, and a day spa in Charlotte

However, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has said its efforts will focus on voluntary compliance, and officers are not proactively stopping drivers or asking people why they're out of the house.

If you do suspect a serious violation of the order, such as a nonessential business continuing to operate or a large group of people planning a cookout, you're asked to file a complaint by either calling 311 or filling out on online report.

Please do not call 911 to file a complaint. Emergency responders need those phones lines kept clear for the people who really need them. 

Finally, the question everyone's been asking: When will all this end?

Unfortunately, we don't know at this point, and that's the truth. North Carolina's stay-at-home order is in effect through April 29, but the could be extended. No one knows how long the coronavirus will stick around so we'll just have to wait and see.

Do you have more questions about the coronavirus, or anything else related to the Charlotte area? Share it with us in the box below. The WFAE newsroom is continuing to report on how the virus is impacting the Charlotte region, and your questions and story ideas keep us going.

Keep up with future FAQ City episodes by subscribing to the podcast on Apple PodcastsNPR One, or Google Play.


Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. He work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal
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.