New Hanover to revisit mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases

Health officials said the county’s percent positivity rate is currently 6.7 percent and that 592 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported over the last 14 days
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 1:30 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Amid an increase in COVID-19-related metrics, the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board on Tuesday voted to “discuss and revisit” the countywide face coverings health rule at its meeting next month.

The Board lifted the mask mandate during its meeting last month, citing a positive trend in several key metrics.

On Tuesday, health officials said the county’s percent positivity rate is currently 6.7 percent and that 592 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported over the last 14 days for an average of 42.3 cases per day. This is an increase since before Thanksgiving, when the percent positivity rate was 2.7 percent and there was an average of 14.5 new cases over the last 14 days.

“The Health and Human Services Board is going to discuss COVID-19 metrics and trends, data compared to last year at this time, and other statistical analysis as it relates to where we are in the pandemic after the new year and whether we need to reinstate our face coverings health rule,” said Health and Human Services Board Chair Dr. LeShonda Wallace. “This is a proactive conversation that the board plans to have, given our current increases in case counts and hospitalizations and the rapid spread [of] Omicron, to see where we are and if additional protective measures like face coverings are needed. The Omicron and Delta variants are actively circulating, so we encourage our community to make good choices over the holidays and wear face coverings when in crowded spaces, and get tested if you plan to visit family. The more we can do proactively, the better we will all be.”

During the Delta variant surge, officials dropped the mandate when the percent positive rate dropped below five percent. David Howard, New Hanover County’s Public Health Director, says they don’t have a percent positive rate set this time to bring the mandate back.

“This time around it might look a little different. Omicron is a different variant as it takes over in terms of crowding out the delta variant and all other variants,” said Howard. “So it’s going to be very important to look at omicron specifically.”

So far, there are no recorded cases of omicron in southeastern North Carolina, but Howard says it’s only a matter of time.

“We’ve learned just in the past couple of days that that omicron is very rapidly taking over and outpacing the delta variant. We have learned that the omicron spreads much more rapidly,” said Howard.

The board also voted to form a subcommittee to work with staff, including the newly formed Pandemic Operations Team, to develop a clear methodology of statistical analysis, including hospital, CDC and NCDHHS data, in order to make a data-informed decision related to the face coverings health rule and other protective measures related to the pandemic.

The Board’s meeting, which will include a public hearing, is set for Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 at 8 a.m. The public hearing will be an opportunity for the board to review current data, receive comments from the public, and determine whether the previously implemented health rule that requires face coverings in all indoor public places within New Hanover County should be reinstated. The previous health rule that will be considered can be viewed here.

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