Masks will be required in indoor public places in Charlotte and unincorporated Mecklenburg County effective Wednesday, officials announced Monday. The mandate may soon apply to the rest of the county if county commissioners decide to follow suit, they said.
Officials held a press conference shortly after the Mecklenburg County COVID-19 Policy Group, which guides the county and its municipalities on pandemic response, met privately to discuss the current state of the coronavirus in the community, leading Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles to announce a citywide mask mandate effective Wednesday.
Multiple media outlets including Queen City Nerve called on the county to open the meeting to the public to no avail.
Due to the recent uptick in cases and spread of the Delta variant, the group recommended the Mecklenburg Board of the County Commissioners adopt a “public health rule” that would mandate masks indoors countywide, across all municipalities. It would go into effect 10 days after the board makes a decision, which is expected to happen in a special meeting on Wednesday. Municipalities can pass their own mask mandates sooner if they wish, like Charlotte is doing.
Following Monday’s press conference, Lyles tweeted, “I support today’s recommendation by the Policy Group to create a county-wide mask mandate and I will be instituting a City of Charlotte mandate this Wednesday. We have to remember there are people who are not able to get vaccinated, so all we must [sic] mask up to help stop this virus.”
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said, despite 50% of residents being fully vaccinated, the county “continues to remain in the red,” indicating high transmission rates of COVID-19 in the community.
Harris said positive cases have increased by 87% over the last two weeks, while hospitalizations are up as well. There have been 13 deaths in that time. Half of the positive cases were people 25 to 39 years old, 20% were children and 27% were Black.
“The bottom line is we need people to get vaccinated and we need people to wear masks. Those are the two things that are going to help us monitor, manage this situation, and keep it from continuing to escalate in our community,” Harris said Monday. “We know that COVID is here to stay. We have got to manage it.
“The reason for mandating is that our numbers have risen high enough, fast enough, that we think it’s necessary to get the community’s attention with a mandate.”
Diorio claims Policy Group meetings are not open to public
There is no end date set for the mask mandate. Harris said the policy group will continue to look at the data to decide when masks can come off again.
They’ll likely have those discussions in private again as, according to Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio, the Policy Group is not legally required to open their meetings to the public. Last week, 13 media outlets, including Queen City Nerve called on Dioro to allow the public access to Monday’s meeting, but she ignored them.
“We looked at the statute,” she said, referring to her discussion with the county attorney. “We looked at the work that we do as a policy group and made a determination that it’s not a body that would be required to have open meetings.”
Diorio further clarified that the policy group does not make decisions, but recommendations to elected boards, which then make decisions in front of the public.
“This is not the first Policy Group meeting we’ve ever had. We’ve been meeting consistently since March of 2020 and I think we’ve done an outstanding job representing the community and making sound decisions that are in the best interest of the community,” she said. “We have a recipe that works and if we have a recipe that works we’re not going to be in a position to change it.”
The public may never know what was discussed during the meeting. Diorio did say a vaccine mandate, which would involve showing proof of vaccination to enter public places, instead of a mask mandate, was never on the table. She and Harris are confident requiring masks indoors will be enough to move the county out of the red and in the right direction.
“The hope is that with a little bit of extra push, people will get the message and pay attention and start doing the right thing, most people already are, but we still have enough in our community that are spreading virus — that’s why our numbers are going up — that we need to just reinforce the message and that’s what the mask mandate does,” Harris said. “From a public health perspective, it’s the right thing to do.”