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NHC Health Board decides to not reinstate mask mandate

NHC Health Board decides to not reinstate mask mandate
Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 5:30 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board decided against reinstating the countywide mask mandate during a meeting Tuesday morning.

A vote on a motion made by Jonathan Barfield and seconded by Dr. Delma Kinlaw to not move forward with a mask mandate ended in a 5-5 split vote. The meeting was adjourned minutes later with no changes being made.

The previous countywide mandate was lifted after an 8-4 vote by the board in November.

Emotions were high Tuesday morning as the New Hanover County Health Board considered taking up the mask rule again.

Each of the five speakers at public comment advocated against another mandate, and 61 percent of the responses emailed in from community members took the same stance. The majority of the chairs in the health department meeting room were filled at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with many audience members carrying handwritten signs.

“You know, they listened to all of the hundreds of emails and messages,” said Rebekah SantaDesoto from the parking lot after the meeting emptied.

“I’m very happy that they didn’t pass the mask mandate in our county,” added Erin Cogan, standing beside her, still holding a handwritten ‘bodily autonomy is essential’ poster.

The data presented to the board Tuesday revealed the high case counts from the contagious Omicron variant continue to burden hospital staff. While this strain of the virus isn’t regarded as being as deadly, its still stretching our healthcare system to the max. Health director David Howard though explained experts are seeing the numbers beginning to plateau.

While health board members couldn’t find enough votes to change course and implement a mandate, they haven’t given up the fight against Omicron.

“We will act on the alternatives, and moving forward, we will engage the community around how to prevent the harmful impacts of COVID-19,” said David Howard.

The decision came after a lengthy discussion, made tense by a combination of spirited audience members and friction between board members. After looking at the latest metrics, and conversations about enforcement and the right to choose, the meeting resulted in a stalemate.

“The end of the day we have the free will to make choices. In my house, we wear masks, we’re all vaccinated, we’re doing the things that we should be doing to protect ourselves and I want everyone to have their own personal liberties and rights and freedoms, as long as it doesn’t infringe on mine,” said Commissioner Barfield.

Despite the lack of action, the health director says moving forward with that outreach and making sure everyone has access to vaccinations and masks might still have the desired effect.

“It doesn’t really matter how much mandates are in place, what really matters is mitigation and efforts that people take collectively for themselves, for their household and also their neighbors,” said Howard. “As we see numbers come down from Omicron, we will be in a much better place. We’ve done this before and we can do it again.”

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