North Carolina bill to curb mask-wearing in protests could make it illegal for medical reasons too

RALEIGH, N.C. — People wearing a mask during protests in North Carolina could face extra penalties if arrested, under proposed legislation that critics say could make it illegal to wear a mask in public as a way to protect against COVID-19 or for other health reasons.

Republicans supporters say the legislation, which passed its first committee Tuesday, was prompted in part by the recent wave of protests on universities nationwide — including at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — against Israel’s war in Gaza.

GOP Sen. Buck Newton brushed off concerns that getting rid of pandemic-era exemptions on masks was overly broad, saying he expects authorities to use “good common sense.”

“We didn’t see Granny getting arrested in the Walmart pre-COVID,” Newton said as he presented the bill Tuesday in the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

While the main thrust of the bill enhances penalties for people wearing a mask during a crime or intentionally blocking traffic during protests, most concerns centered on the health and safety exemption. According to the bill’s summary, people could no longer wear masks in public for medical reasons.

“You say, ‘Well, this wasn’t a problem before COVID,’” Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus told Newton. “The world

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