Leaders discuss potential face mask requirement as cases spike in New Hanover Co.


NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The number of coronavirus cases in New Hanover County has more than doubled since the beginning of this month. As of Wednesday afternoon, the county has 444 positive cases.

In Raleigh, numbers led leaders to require face masks in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

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Right now, face masks in Wilmington and New Hanover County are just recommended. Leaders in the city and county say there haven’t been any official meetings to discuss whether to implement that requirement as well, but they say it could be discussed in the future.

“We do know our numbers are going up and they’re going up quite rapidly,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said.

As North Carolina reopens, a lot of areas, including New Hanover County, are seeing a spike in cases.

“But now that we’ve reopened, we now have seen the number that have come in over the Memorial Day Weekend,” Saffo said. “It was a dramatic spike. We knew that it was going to be a spike, but we didn’t realize it was going to be that large of a spike.”

New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield says New Hanover County started out really well in the beginning stages of coronavirus, with one of the more strict State of Emergency declarations in the state.

“At first, we were pretty low and it was looking really good, but now we’re right there neck and neck almost with Columbus County, and that train is going in the wrong direction,” Barfield said.

While face masks are still just a recommendation in the New Hanover County, Barfield says requiring masks would be a way to reopen businesses while keeping the number of cases down at the same time.

“Your merchant have got to get back to business,” Barfield said. “But also protect the folks who are coming into their establishments. You’re not going to make any resources whatsoever if folks aren’t well enough to come into your stores.”

Saffo agrees with Barfield, saying people did a great job of flattening the curve, but says people need to keep up the safety precautions to keep cases from continuing to spike.

“With social distancing and wearing of face masks and the washing of hands and staying home, we knew we could keep the numbers down,” Saffo said. “What I’ve seen is that people have kind of abandoned that. And it’s unfortunate because our numbers are increasing. This is a very contagious virus, and we may have to revisit that.”

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, New Hanover County is also reporting five deaths and 135 recoveries.

Saffo says the city is waiting for more guidance on the state before making any decisions regarding face masks.