Mecklenburg County’s indoor mask mandate will now be automatically lifted once the average COVID-19 positivity rate falls below 5% for seven straight days, as opposed to the 30 days originally agreed upon over the summer.
County commissioners voted unanimously on Nov. 3 to revise the mandate, which has been in effect since Aug. 31, and requires masks be worn inside public places across all municipalities regardless of vaccination status.
At the time, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told the board her team would watch the COVID-19 data in the community and reevaluate their recommendation for masks at least every 30 days. They have been looking for the positivity rate to drop under 5% for 30 days.
As of Oct. 27, Harris said an average of 6% of people tested in Mecklenburg County were positive for COVID-19.
Harris told the board on Nov. 3 that when it comes to case rate (number of cases per 100,000), “We are still in the red. We are still in high community spread for Mecklenburg County,” but in general, numbers are slowly and steadily declining.
Commissioner Elaine Powell said she wants the public to know the board is trying to make the right decisions to protect public health, and not based on any political agenda.
“None of us are in love with these masks,” she said. “In fact, they’re annoying. I just want people to know we’re reading your emails, we understand you’re frustrated.”
Powell asked Harris to explain the reasoning behind the 5% positivity rate threshold, to which Harris responded the number is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coupled with COVID-19 case count. She said those numbers together tell her department what the situation is in the community.
Harris told the board that the case positivity rate in Mecklenburg County has fallen below 5% before, in the early summer before the Delta variant.
“So we know we can get there,” she said.
When prompted by Commissioner Leigh Altman, Harris affirmed she supports the decision to lift the mandate under the condition the county can reach that number again for seven days straight.
“I hope the public’s watching because I want to hear from the public health director. Are you comfortable with this?” Altman asked. “Do you feel that all of our metrics, not just percent positivity, but the hospital rates and all of it … this is in your professional opinion as a public health professional in the best interest of this community at the time.”
“At this point in time I believe it is,” Harris said. “If we can get down to that lower than 5% for seven consecutive days, I think we’ve moved in the right direction and it’s an opportunity to give the community a break.”
Commissioner Pat Cotham, who voted against the initial indoor mask mandate in August, called the revision “progress.”
“Do like everything in this? No,” she said.
County commissioners will not have to meet to lift the mandate once the metrics fall below 5% — it will automatically expire — but they will have to meet to reinstate another mask mandate if numbers spike back up.