Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a stay-at-home order for all residents of the state, effective at 5 p.m. Monday, he announced at a news conference Friday afternoon.

But Cooper urged people not to wait until Monday to start staying home.

The order means people need to stay at home except to go to work or get food, medicine or outdoor exercise. The mass-gathering ban of more than 10 people and directs people to stay at least 6 feet away from each other. But Cooper’s order makes an exception for funerals, which are permitted to include no more than 50 people, while observing social distancing requirements to the extent possible.

The mass gathering ban also does not include airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and centers.

Essential services are allowed to continue but should use a strong social distancing policy, the order says.

People will still get their mail and online purchases delivered, be able to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, pick up food or have it delivered from restaurants, seek legal or tax services, stay in a hotel or travel.

The order says the essential retail businesses are:

» Electronic retailers that sell or service cellphones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology.

» Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores.

» Beer, wine and liquor stores.

» Lawn and garden equipment retailers.

» Book stores that sell educational material.

» Retail located within health care facilities.

» Pet and feed stores.

The order remains in effect for 30 days.

North Carolina is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have widespread transmission, Cooper said.

For those cities or counties that already have a stay-at-home order in place, the more restrictive order would be the prevailing one, Cooper said.

State health officials encouraged people to follow the order so the virus isn’t spread and the hospitals and health care workers are not overwhelmed with positive cases.

Cooper ended the news conference by saying, “Let’s make sure we all do our part here in North Carolina. Thank you very much.”

Cooper also announced on Friday that parents who need food assistance for their children can text FOODNC to 877-877 to locate nearby free meal sites. The texting service also is available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877, according to information from his office. After entering their address, parents will receive a text with the location and serving times for nearby pick-up and drive-thru free meal sites while schools are closed, according to Cooper’s office.

Parents can also call 2-1-1 to speak with an operator who will help them locate meal sites in their community. The 2-1-1 service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Services are provided in English, Spanish and many other languages, according to Gov. Cooper’s office.

The CDC recommends people who think they might have COVID-19 and have mild symptoms to stay home and call their doctor for medical advice.

Sharon McBrayer can be reached at smcbrayer@morganton.com or at 828-432-8946.

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