Local Politics

Cities, Wake County reinstate mask mandates; private businesses must make own plans

Posted July 30, 2021 8:25 a.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2021 6:10 p.m. EDT

— Wake leaders announced Friday that masks will be required indoors again at all county buildings, regardless of a person's vaccination status. Within hours, the City of Raleigh and the City of Fayetteville followed suit with similar statement.

The requirement applies to employees and visitors to all public buildings and facilities like government offices, libraries and courts. It takes effect on Monday.

People using Fayetteville Area System of Transit must also wear masks, while practicing six feet of social distancing. Ridership for each bus is now 22, instead of 35.

The Wake County Public School System already has a mask mandate in place, but a formal announcement has not been made about the new school year.

Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said Friday that 70% of the adult population in Wake County is now vaccinated, but while that number is hopeful, cases and hospitalizations are still rising. Cases are up in Wake County 279% since beginning of June, Calabria said, calling the mask mandate a "temporary normal," not permanent.

"Letting our guard down now is like being in the lead in the last lap of a race and deciding you're just going to take your foot off the gas ... we've got to see this through," Calabria said.

The increase in COVID cases complicates things for local businesses, which are not bound by the city and county orders but must set their own guidelines for employees and customers.

"Unfortunately, I think we are seeing another wave come through," said Chris Powers of Young Hearts Distilling.

His new company is just coming together, and with his co-owner he is planning to open to the public soon.

"We are starting to think, 'how do we set up for these things as they arrive?'" he said.

He knows no matter the plan he puts into place, it's likely he'll have to adapt again.

Due to a rise in cases, Wake County has moved back into the orange zone, which means substantial community spread, on the state's pandemic map.

Fueled by the Delta variant, coronavirus cases have exploded in North Carolina in recent weeks. The state reported 3,268 new infections on Thursday, the highest one-day total in more than five months. The daily case count is up 82 percent from a week ago and is more than triple the number reported July 15.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he would allow a statewide mask mandate to end on Friday as planned, but he strongly encouraged businesses and schools to mask up and ask people to get vaccinated based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states even vaccinated people should wear masks in areas where cases are rising. A new report released Thursday from the CDC indicates the variant could be as contagious as chickenpox.

Like businesses and universities, the state's counties and school districts will be able to set their own mask policies. Many local school districts, including Wake, Durham and Orange, currently have mask mandates in place, but Johnston County Schools went against state and national guidance and announced Thursday that masks will be optional.

Many health care facilities are now requiring employees to be vaccinated, including at Duke University Hospital, where protests were planned Friday.

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