New Hanover Co. mask rule approved after heated public meeting

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board voted unanimously to approve a health rule requiring face-coverings in all indoor public buildings after a heated public meeting on Tuesday morning.

The health rule replaces the Public Health Order of Abatement that was implemented Friday, August 20, and continues the same mandate. The county-wide rule applies to anyone 2 years and older, regardless of vaccination status.

Several people stood outside the meeting in protest of the mandate because they were not permitted in the building without face-coverings. Some of the protesters ultimately took the masks offered at the door so they could participate in the meeting.

The board heard comments from several members of the community during the meeting. A majority of speakers were opposed to the mask mandate but some did speak in support of it.

Many of those who spoke in opposition of the rule claimed it was an infringement on their rights to choose to wear the mask. Public Health Director David Howard said their voices were heard during the meeting and their objections are understood.

“We are not in the business of infringing on anyone’s personal choice or right,” Howard said. “The rule in public health is particular to public health. That’s the only reason this is given to a board, the authority and the duty to use rules to protect public health.”

A few people were removed from the meeting for not wearing masks or being disruptive. The board called a brief recess after the 45 minutes of public comment time was exhausted. The crowd became unruly because not everyone was permitted to comment since the time ran out.

After the recess, a limited number of people were allowed back into the meeting and the board voted to approve the new health rule requiring masks indoors.

Following the meeting, David Howard acknowledged that masking is not a perfect solution to the problem, but said a layering approach of masking, social distancing, and getting vaccinated are all ways to help stop the spread of the virus.

The rule does not have a set expiration date. Howard explains it will be lifted when metrics improve and that decision will be made by the HHS Board.

“We have no interest in having this rule or any kind of rule for public health reasons to last any longer than necessary,” Howard said.

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