Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger launched a new campaign on Wednesday to promote wearing masks and protecting others’ health.

The Safer for Everyone in Chapel Hill campaign is a non-legislative extension to the Orange County orders regarding masks in Phase 2. While the county and towns are requiring business owners to wear face coverings when serving customers, patrons are not necessarily required to cover their faces.

But the campaign launched by Hemminger urges anyone 12 years of age and older to wear a mask whenever in a public place or unable to maintain six feet of distance from others. 

The mayor spoke with 97.9 The Hill’s Aaron Keck on Thursday, and explained how this campaign may help cover any ground not done in the county’s order.

“We came just short of requiring it because not everyone has access to a mask,” she said when talking about Orange County’s legislation. “Not everybody is going to be able to wear one [right away] and it’s not really enforceable. We decided an education campaign would be better, as well as mask distributions.”

Hemminger said the goal is for Chapel Hill residents to learn more about why wearing masks is important and just how effective they can be when preventing the coronavirus’ spread to other people — even when the wearer isn’t showing symptoms.

“The mask protects other people in the community if you have [COVID-19] and may not know you have it, and vice versa,” she said. “Someone else wearing their mask protects you just in case they’re asymptomatic. We’re learning so much more about this virus, but we know it can hover up to three hours in the air [in droplet form.] So the masks really are a good step towards reducing the spread.”

Another important part of the campaign is distributing free face coverings to community members. The Town of Chapel Hill has been buying, making and accepting donated masks to prepare for widespread distribution to anyone who needs one.

Hemminger said while she believes Chapel Hill residents have largely been wearing masks and are compliant to the county’s legislation, she knows many other cities are not experiencing the same participation. The mayor said she’s proud of residents’ willingness to protect public health so far and hopes the campaign can take those efforts even further.

“We’ve heard from other mayors across that nation, when they’ve mandated they’ve had such pushback and protest,” said Hemminger, “because they didn’t do a good job of educating or making masks available at the onset. Education is hugely important and when [wearing a mask] becomes the norm, people feel more comfortable doing it. We’re really excited about pushing out this campaign and getting people to voluntarily be part of the solution. And that’s what this community is really good about doing.” 

Hemminger said masks are already being given out at food distribution events through the town and county, but more opportunities to get a free mask will be coming soon. She said the town is considering having pick-up sites, and where community members can donate unused masks too, be fire stations in town. Hemminger said more details will be coming over the next few weeks, but community members can plan in the future on calling the Chapel Hill Emergency Operations Center to find out mask locations.

You can learn more about the Safer for Everyone in Chapel Hill campaign on the Town of Chapel Hill’s website.

Photo via the Town of Chapel Hill. does not charge subscription fees. You can support local journalism and our mission to serve the community. Contribute today – every single dollar matters.