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North Carolina racetrack ordered to close for defying executive order

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(NEW YORK) — A North Carolina racetrack that state leaders say has repeatedly violated its coronavirus executive order on mass gatherings has been ordered to temporarily close.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued an abatement order Monday requiring ACE Speedway to immediately close its facility, calling the racetrack an “imminent hazard” for the spread of COVID-19.

Under the state’s executive order, as of May 22, sporting venues with a capacity of at least 500 people must limit the number of attendees to 25. ACE Speedway has a 5,000-seat capacity.

The racetrack has acted in “open defiance” of the governor’s orders, the health department said. Its abatement order noted that on May 23, the Alamance County racetrack had “possibly as many as 4,000 spectators” who came in “close proximity.” Subsequent events on May 30 and June 6 also had more than 2,500 spectators and violated social distancing requirements despite notices from the state and Alamance County Sheriff’s Office to comply with the executive order, the health department said.

The state ordered that the racetrack alert the public by 5 p.m. ET Tuesday that all events through June 26, when the state’s current reopening phase is set to end, are canceled. ACE Speedway had not updated the schedule on its website as of 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. Its next race was scheduled for June 19.

The abatement order also allows the racetrack to propose a new plan — that follows the state’s restrictions on mass gatherings and social distancing guidelines — to be approved by the state health department.

An email to ACE Speedway was not immediately returned, and its voicemail box was full and not accepting messages.

ACE Speedway is not the only racetrack to hold races in defiance of the state’s restrictions on mass gatherings. 311 Speedway in Stokes County held a race on Saturday with fans in attendance and has another event scheduled for this weekend.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services told ABC News that no other state racetracks have been issued abatement orders at this time.

In its abatement order, the state noted that Alamance County has “troubling data indicative of a COVID-19 spread.” According to the state health department, the doubling time for the outbreak in Alamance went from 19.7 days in the last week of May to 13.6 days in early June, “indicating that viral spread is becoming more rapid.”

“Across the state, North Carolinians are making huge sacrifices to protect their families and neighbors. This virus is highly contagious and very dangerous. Bad actors who flagrantly violate public health orders put all of our families and loved ones at risk,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina health department, said in a statement.

Alamance County has 553 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up 25 from the day before, according to the latest figures from the Alamance County Health Department.

Alamance County Attorney Clyde Albright has previously argued in favor of ACE Speedway’s reopening, saying that the governor cannot “limit the number of people who can peaceably assemble under the First Amendment.” Albright has not yet returned ABC News’ request for comment on the new abatement order.

The Alamance health department told ABC News that, ahead of each event, it has sent ACE Speedway recommendations to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including implementing temperature checks and encouraging fans to wear face coverings. In the guidelines, shared with ABC News, the first recommendation is that, per the governor’s executive order, “spectator attendance cannot exceed 25 participants.”

The guidelines also suggest that the racetrack keep rosters of all participants in each event. At this time, the Alamance health department has not identified a cluster of cases tied to the racetrack, but “this may change as additional data from events is inventoried and cross-referenced,” they said in a statement to ABC News.

The department also noted that many participants are not residents of the county or state.

“The Health Department is exploring ways to utilize data to help other jurisdictions and do our part to fully investigate any epidemiological associations,” the statement read.

By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
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