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NORTH CAROLINA, Raleigh– Various industries have been considered “essential businesses” under North Carolina’s stay at home order, which went into effect at 5 p.m. March 30 and lasts until April 30.
Restaurants offering takeout, drive-through and delivery, medical facilities and even construction sites are included. The full list of essential businesses can be found here. This means that while the state is under the stay at home order, workers employed by essential businesses can still work outside of their homes.
While it hasn’t been designated as a requirement, many of these employees are carrying letters to prove they are allowed to leave their homes and work.
Some large corporations like Target and McDonald’s have reportedly provided letters for their employees that prove they are authorized to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the N.C. Department of Agriculture has drafted a work authorization letter in both English and Spanish for almost employees in the food and agriculture sector to use. It is signed by agricultural commissioner Steve Troxler and includes a list of the workers it covers on the second page.
According to Luis Cruz, Director of Agriculture Services & Foreign Labor in N.C. Department of Commerce, the state “is working on a letter, but employers can create something according to the guidelines.” The N.C. Department of Revenue is in charge of allocating information to businesses around the state’s executive order. There was no letter template on its website at the time of this publication.
The ambiguity around the letter— and whether it is required—has left many immigrant workers concerned about potential run-ins with law enforcement on the way to work.
“Community members right now are very fearful. If they leave their homes and get stopped, will they get a ticket?” says Iliana Santillan of Poder NC Action.
According to state statute, violating the order is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor. That means that residents can be fined up to $1,000 and face up to 60 days in jail.
Enforcement, however, is less clear and dependent on each city police department agency. Last week in Charlotte, the police department said in a statement to The Charlotte Observer that “enforcement actions will be leveraged as a last resort if we reach a point that we are not successful in attaining community cooperation.”
According to a Facebook post in Spanish yesterday, the Wilmington Police Department said it would “not stop people to ask where they are going.” The post was followed by a press release, where Wilmington’s Interim Police Chief Donny Williams said, “There are a lot of questions about the order and some confusion, therefore we want to make sure everyone is well informed and in compliance. While our number one goal is for the safety and well-being of our community, our officers have been directed to cite individuals when all other measures to ensure order and compliance have been exhausted.”
On social media and through Poder NC Action, Santillan has been circulating a letter created by Latino community members that can be used as a template, too. While talking to Enlace Latino NC on the phone, she noticed a copy of that letter on a car in a store parking lot where she was running an errand.
“This driver has a letter posted on their window,” she said. “People are trying to figure out how to drive safely.”
She added that Poder NC Action’s next step would be to request that the state government provide an official template to show law enforcement. To assuage all concerns, Santillan said that the community ideally would like for law enforcement to stop issuing tickets for people driving without a license during the pandemic.