CHARLOTTE — Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday night to drop the mask mandate in Mecklenburg County, and the change will take effect Feb. 26.
Health officials cited several reasons for the recommendation that led to the vote, including improving trends, vaccine availability and new treatments.
[ALSO READ: Gov. Cooper to give update on school masks guidance Thursday]
There is also higher community immunity and sufficient capacity in hospitals and emergency rooms.
Federal regulations still require mandatory face coverings in some health care facilities, public transportation, airports and airplanes.
People at high risk and who live in congregational places should also wear masks.
Mecklenburg County officials said businesses and places will still have the authority to enforce their own mask mandates.
Mecklenburg County Chief Health Officer Dr. Raynard Washington said K-12 schools and daycares should make plans now to switch to mask-optional by early March 2022.
Since February 13 in Mecklenburg County:
- The seven-day case rate for omicron is down 87% since its peak on Jan. 16.
- Hospitalizations fell to 400 a day, down 37% from last week.
- The percentage of positive cases was 15.7%, down 58% from January 9.
However, Washington said case counts and percentage positivity rates were becoming less reliable. The county is focusing on other early indicators of COVID-19, including sewage monitoring and syndromic surveillance.
“Current trends point to a shift in COVID-19 conditions and point to the need for a revised response plan that encompasses prevention, surveillance, and equitable resource distribution,” Washington said.
The mask mandate won’t officially be dropped until February 26 due to how the public health rule was implemented. Washington says it takes 10 days of public notice. The mask mandate is currently not enforced, which means that in most settings people are likely to drop masks sooner.
“We’re not getting rid of masks,” Washington said. “We’re getting rid of a warrant.”
Commissioners ready to lift their mandate
Washington said last week at a meeting of commissioners that it would recommend lifting the mandate if trends abate.
“If we’re in the position for this to continue, hopefully next (Wednesday) I’ll be able to make a recommendation to rescind the mask mandate,” Washington said at the Feb. 9 meeting of commissioners.
The commissioners said they were ready to get rid of the rule as soon as Washington gives the go-ahead.
[PAST COVERAGE: Mask mandate remains for Mecklenburg County but metrics for lifting may change]
“I can’t wait to be there,” said Commissioner Laura Meier, D-District 5. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“We have to learn to live with this,” said Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, D-District 6. “I think we do.”
Dr. Katie Passaretti, infectious disease physician at Atrium Health, said the steady decline in cases and hospitalizations point to a recension of the mask mandate as the natural next step.
“I think it makes sense to move into this phase of things in the next stage, as we hope to continue to see further improvement in the number of cases,” she said.
But Passaretti said we’re at a point where mask-wearing should come down to individual risk. She still recommends it to those who are unvaccinated and those with weakened immune systems.
“Weighing the risks to you and your circle of family, friends, contacts is going to be very important in ensuring that we continue to protect the most vulnerable,” she said.
ABC News medical contributor Dr. Darien Sutton warns that even as COVID-19 measures ease, it remains a threat.
“I think universal abandonment of mask mandates is premature at this time,” Sutton said.
It took two years, but the Italian restaurant Osteria Luca resumed operations as before the pandemic.
“It looks like it’s moving in the right direction at this point and I’m happy with that,” owner Ken Martino said.
Martino said he’s glad the county can regain some sense of normalcy this week with the dropping of the mask mandate.
“I’ve been looking forward to the end of this mask mandate for some time,” he said. “It’s important that people continue to wear the masks, but I would certainly like that to stop.”
At a separate meeting, the CMS school board voted last Tuesday to keep the mask mandate in place for another month amid opposition from some parents.
“If you believe in morality, can you deny that masking children for eight hours a day is a form of child abuse,” mother Beth Quinn said.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, a teacher said she was grateful for CMS’s decision.
“I support the mask mandates we have right now as a CMS teacher,” mother Ayana Perry said. “I support them as I take care of having students outside on a daily basis.”
Under the current mandate, the county’s test positivity rate must be below 5% for seven consecutive days before it can be dropped.
[PAST COVERAGE: CMS board votes to require masking at school as NC COVID cases surge]
(Watch the video below: Mecklenburg County Commissioners talk about the current mask policy)
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