New Hanover County ends indoor mask mandate

Face mask (Photo: Pexels)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board voted on Friday to end the indoor mask mandate for all public places, effective immediately.

It was approved in a vote of 8-4, the restriction had been in placed since August 31.

Entities within the county, like healthcare facilities, schools, private businesses, and others, have the option to continue requiring face coverings indoors, even without the county-wide health rule in place.

The percent COVID-19 positivity rate for the past 14 days within New Hanover County is 2.7 percent. The state’s positivity rate is 5 percent. There are currently around nine patients currently hospitalized at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

The board will meet again on January 18 and will discuss COVID-19 metrics, however there are no plans to reconsider the mask mandate at this time.

“While the board has repealed the health rule, we still strongly encourage residents, especially those who have not been vaccinated or are at greater risk of severe health impacts from the virus, to wear a mask in public indoor places particularly crowded spaces like public transportation,” said Health and Human Service Board Chair Dr. LeShonda Wallace. “As part of the board’s decision today, the HHS Board voted to continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics in the county and if those spike again – including a percent positivity rate over 5%, daily case counts above 100, and burden of COVID-19 hospitalizations on our healthcare system’s capacity – the board may reconsider implementing the health rule again. Our goal is to protect the entire community and reduce the impact of disease, and that will continue to be our focus.”

“Our community’s COVID-19 metrics are considerably better than when the health rule was implemented – and those improvements have been sustained over several weeks now,” said Olson-Boseman. “It was time to lift the mandate, while still encouraging the community to make good decisions on when and where to wear a mask. The county is going to remain vigilant in monitoring the virus and we are investing resources in a pandemic operations team that will be at the forefront to help advise, educate, and respond to the needs in our community because the pandemic is not over and will eventually become endemic and will continue to be present. I am glad our community members are continuing to get vaccinated and receive the booster, and that children five and up now have the ability to receive the vaccine. It’s important that we keep working together and taking these steps and precautions to ensure this positive path continues and cases do not spike again.”

Olson-Boseman made the motion for the mandate to be lifted, and said she is pleased with the outcome of today’s meeting.

“I felt that we needed to keep our word to the public, we had met the metrics that we had talked about, and it was time to lift the masks. You know, all of the children have a opportunity to get vaccinated now, I’ve had my son vaccinated. This is something we’re going to be living with for a while, and we just have to learn to live with it,” said Olson-Boseman.

Health and Humans Services board chair LeShonda Wallace says she was thankful for the community’s response and public comments before the board made a decision about the mandate.

“By having all the different perspectives, and having everyone have the opportunity to have a voice. It actually, –it was actually very heartfelt for me to be able to actually experience that, to know that so many people show up, and that we all have a concern for the community,” said LeShonda Wallace, Health and Humans Services board chair.

Wallace voted no on the mandate being lifted, saying she wanted consistency with the health rule.

“I do have a concern that we will go back and forth, and once we remove the mask mandate, it may be a challenge to put the mask mandate back in place, and so initially I always said I did not want the community to be yo-yo’d in our efforts, we wanted to see some sustainment,” said Wallace.

County health director David Howard said HHS and the board will continue to monitor the Covid-19 metrics in hopes to prevent another major spike in cases.

“We’ll communicate trends, we’re always looking at trends. So, and the board did not act immediately when we saw an uptick in cases and percent positivity, because we were watching these trends, and they acted accordingly when the trend proved itself to be rising rapidly,” said David Howard, New Hanover County health director.

New Hanover County has moderate transmission of the virus, according to the CDC, and is in the top six of all North Carolina counties for having the lowest percent positivity.

A recording of the board meeting and discussion is available on the county’s YouTube channel here.

Given the decision by the HHS Board, New Hanover County Government has also modified its face covering policy and will no longer require customers to wear face coverings while inside county facilities and at county meetings effective immediately.

Healthcare facilities seem likely to keep the mandate, based on a statement from an Infectious Diseases Consultant with Wilmington Health.

“We never seem to learn from our mistakes; this pandemic has shown over and over again that letting our guard down prematurely leads to a resurgence of infections,” said Dr. Paul F. Kamitsuka in a statement. “The Delta variant is highly contagious. Although local rates are down, with a significant portion of our local population either unvaccinated or not yet boosted, there remain many people susceptible to new COVID infection. The highest priority is to get people vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. However, the medical community should urge all persons to continue masking and distancing so long as the public remains vulnerable —which it clearly still is. None of us enjoy masking, but masking has proven to be protective against COVID-19 and provides an additional layer of protection beyond vaccination.”

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