Health Director addresses questions following New Hanover County’s mask mandate

Indoor mask mandate went into effect Friday for New Hanover County
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 4:19 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A mask mandate is in effect as of Friday of last week in New Hanover County – but there are questions as to what the county plans to do when it comes to enforcement. Last year we saw mask mandates from the Governor and other restrictions put in place by local governments; however, this mandate was put in place by the county’s health director — and that move has different implications.

New Hanover County Health Director David Howard explained that by doing things the way they did, the mask mandate applies to everyone in the county, even those who live in municipalities. Generally, orders from the Board of Commissioners won’t apply to places like Wilmington or Wrightsville Beach.

The mask mandate applies to all buildings, public and private in the county, but, on Monday morning speakers at the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners appeared maskless to voice their thoughts on the mandate itself, and why they are against it.

When asked why the county allowed maskless people inside the building, county spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said that everyone who was not wearing a mask claimed one of the exemptions outlined by the abatement order. When asked about the exemptions, Howard said that the county is relying on people to be honest, and won’t require anyone to prove they have a condition that would make them exempt.

“Nobody is required to show proof we believe in the good faith of the vast majority of the community who are going to understand the logic and rationale of using a face covering and just to help mitigate the spread of the virus,” Howard said.

When it comes to enforcement, there is a legal aspect of the mandate, but Assistant Health Director Carla Turner said that is not the route anyone wants to take.

“Our first tact will be education — if someone is not wearing a mask, we can have someone do some education, we’ll have an education compliance person who can reach out to businesses or things like that just to talk to them about the importance of doing that,” said Turner. “I mean, according to the order of abatement, there is a law enforcement component but we want to start with education to encourage compliance.”

County Commissioner Rob Zapple echoed that sentiment following the county commission meeting saying it was more important for the county to focus on the education aspect of the mandate and not enforcement through measures like fines or criminal charges.

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