Some residents ready to see New Hanover Co. mask mandate lifted

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — As COVID-19 cases remain low in New Hanover County, some residents are ready to see the mask mandate come to an end.

In August, the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board voted to require masks in all public indoor spaces. At the time, many expressed concern with an appointed board, rather than an elected one, making policy for citizens.

“If people feel like the mask masks them feel safer and whatever, then hey, I’m all for it, it’s all about choice. People should have the choice to do what they want to do,” Tom Toby, a member of NC Freedom New Hanover, said.

Toby said most of his frustration with the mandate comes from not being permitted to address county boards without masks, which he said is a violation of the first amendment.

“The very last sentence in the first amendment says that we the citizens have the right to petition for redress of grievance against our government. Well, they have put a condition upon that, you cannot petition without having a mask on. You cannot tax, regulate, or put a condition upon a right.”

Others agree that a first amendment right is being violated. New Hanover County Republican Liberty Caucus member David Perry filed a lawsuit last month in response to a board of education meeting held on October 5. Sheriff’s deputies blocked unmasked attendees from entering the building and removed those who refused to wear a mask within the meeting in response to New Hanover County’s mask mandate.

According to Perry, a judge heard the school board and sheriff’s office’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Tuesday. The judge denied the motion to dismiss but also denied Perry’s preliminary injuction motion that would have allowed guests at school board meetings to be present without masks. A new court date for the case has not yet been set.

New Hanover’s southern neighbor Brunswick County and its school just lifted their mandates this week. Brunswick has a higher percent-positive rate of 5.9-percent while New Hanover is at 2.7-percent. New Hanover County mom Erin Cogan wonders what it will take for her kids to be able to take off the masks.

“My eight-year-old drew a picture of herself this fall with a mask on her face and wrote ‘I can’t breve’ with a V, I can’t breve,” Cogan said.

After her daughter shared the picture with her, Cogan sent the image to her teacher and the school board. She said she was told her child should see a counselor.

“Her nose and mouth are covered and she’s saying, I can’t breathe like that’s not an issue for a counselor. She needs to be able to breathe, she needs to be unmasked,” Cogan said.

The Health and Human Services Board is set to meet Friday, November 12 to discuss the mask mandate.

A spokesman for New Hanover County explained the board’s decision will only impact public places because the county government has its own rules about masking inside county buildings and taking part in public meetings. This can only be changed by county officials.

WWAY reached out to School Board Chair Stefanie Adams to learn more about the metrics used to decide on whether to continue to the mask mandate or not. She shared a comment that reads, “The New Hanover Board of Education relies on data provided by the state and local health departments in determining appropriate COVID precautions in our schools. North Carolina law requires the board to vote monthly on masking requirements, and I expect to hold that vote at our regular board meeting on November 9. Should the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board modify or rescind the existing county-wide mask mandate during their November 12 meeting, the Board of Education will revisit the matter, if necessary, at that time and with that data.”

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