Wake County buildings to require masks again indoors
Wake County leaders will make an announcement regarding masks as coronavirus cases spike across the state and concerns over the highly contagious Delta variant loom.
combating this virus. We are we are the most populous county in the entire state, as many know. And just this week we passed a major milestone. More than 70% of our adult population is now fully vaccinated, which is a really phenomenal achievement. On the other hand, COVID-19 is on a fast track in the wrong direction. Wake County Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have gone up more than 73 across north Carolina. They've doubled in just the last two weeks alone. Wake County has seen a 279% increase in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of June, meaning the number of people infected has more than quadrupled. Our positivity rate is at the highest. It's been in more than five months and we're starting to see clusters and outbreaks. Again after consultation with our public health team and following CDC and state health guidance were making a change to help stop the trajectory of the virus. Starting monday masks will be required indoors at all way county facilities for both our employees and the public. Regardless of vaccination status, anyone from the public wishing to enter county buildings can bring a mask or they'll be provided one. We are by no means the first to enact new mask policies and we applaud those who are partnering across our community together. We can protect Wake County from this virus and that's what it's going to take. All of us working together, joining me today to share a little bit more on why this is a critical step for us right now is Dr Nicole Matsanga. Wake County's Associate Medical Director and epidemiology Program Director Dr Michelle Go we may want to start with just clarifying something for everyone. It was mid May when our health experts said that vaccinated people could take off our masks and so it might be helpful to explain what's changed. Doctor Misenga. Thank you Chair calabria. You're right back in May. All of the data was showing us that fully vaccinated people were less likely to transmit the virus. But all that has changed with the delta variant. The delta variant is different, it's 60% more contagious than the last variant and it spreads from person to person 50% faster. While it's a very small amount that there are vaccinated people that are testing positive for delta. And these breakthrough infections mean even vaccinated people can spread the virus. The more we allow the virus to spread, the more chances we give the virus to mutate. Again when you become infected, you become a host potentially helping grow a new variant and the new variants aren't going to be any weaker, they're going to be stronger and more deadly. The majority of all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be people who are unvaccinated. So that's why we are also encouraging everyone to not only wear a mask but to get a vaccine. The vaccines are helping prevent severe illness and death from the delta variant. Getting a shot is the best way to protect you and your loved ones. We have free walking vaccine clinics open six days a week with evening and weekend hours. And this weekend there are numerous events from anyone 12 and older so they're able to get their shot plus pick up some free school supplies to We want Wake County to be able to get back to being one of the healthiest places in the country. Thank you. Dr Misenga. And I know Wake County Public Health Team is working incredibly hard right now and I really want to thank you and all your colleagues and our communications staff and so many others in the wake county team for doing just tremendous work in a very difficult time. Sometimes we need to remind people about the mission of public health. Many tend to think about one doctor helping one individual be healthier. But for you and your team, it's actually about protecting the entire community. And that's what I'm asking is all about. And I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about that. Yes. Whether it's flu measles are now Covid 19. Our team knows that infectious diseases aren't just an individual problem, their collective community problem. That's the case with Covid 19 where one person's choice can have a ripple effect with incredibly fast spread of the delta variant from one person to another. Your chances of getting sick depends on the choices of other people around you. We've updated our guidance for schools regarding masks for the same reason we've even had event organizers call us being proactive and looking for help in understanding what's safe. And we encourage community leaders and businesses to do that to email or call us if they have questions on how they can protect their employees or customers. Thank you very much. We're going to move to media questions in just a second, but I want to really emphasize for everyone and the importance of getting vaccinated. We're having a number of questions in our community and across the country about the role of government as it relates to COVID-19 and so many other important issues. Those are important questions. But to me and I think for our public health folks, the central question is should you get vaccinated? And thankfully the answer to that question is yes. If we can all get vaccinated, it will make a world of difference and that is what it's going to take to make sure that we stomp out the virus in Wake County and across our country. So I really want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated to encourage your friends and family to get vaccinated. It's the most important thing that we can do right now. And I want to continue to emphasis that. So now we're going to move to media questions. You can type your name outlet and your questions into the chat box and make sure you've selected everyone in the drop down menu so we can see them or external communications manager Stacy Beard is monitoring the chat. So we're going to turn it over to you Stacy. Okay. Um, we are already getting some questions and the first one is from josh schaffer. Um, he's asking if county buildings are also schools. So basically will schools be part of this county building, uh, mandate and there's always obviously some confusion. Our schools us or they they are we them. So, um, I don't know if you guys want to want to talk about that chair, calabria or dr Matsanga. Sure. Thank you, Stacy Dr Michelle. Do you want to talk a little bit about the scope of um, of the policy change overall? Yes. So the policy will affect wake county buildings. We have had conversations and will have conversations with the school, but the school boards will make their final decision on how to operate within the school facilities. Yeah. And we are, I should emphasize, we're in really almost constant contact with the school system. We've got a phenomenal public health staff and so we are sharing the information that we're putting together in our analyses with them as well as with municipal leaders and other leaders throughout the county business leaders to uh, we in Wake County have a sort of central role because of our public health mission in the county and our public health responsibilities. And so it's incumbent on us to make sure that we provide the best information regarding best practices and the situation on the ground to our folks Stacy. Great. Thank you. Terry Calabrian Doctor Matsanga. Um, we have a question from adam Owens. Uh, and uh, he's asking about the convention center. Uh, there's a large convention going on their galaxy con um, max masks are optional. Um, and some are unmasked there. Um, what are our thoughts about events like that with, with obviously the Delta spread where it is right now? Sure. Dr Matsanga. Yes. Well being with the new guidance and knowing what we know about the delta variant and how, how quickly it's able to spread. It is important that if you are indoors that you should be wearing a mask, whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, everyone should be wearing a mask indoors and yeah, to follow up on that um Ana Rivera of abc 11 asked about where you know Wake County is now enacting uh you know, reinstating its mask requirements. Could we possibly see our county buildings close again? Um And I'm guessing that's something we're monitoring, right Dr Michelle go. So we so I think one of the things we want to highlight is that we're not in the place, we were a year ago. Um We have a large portion of our community that is vaccinated. Um but we see that the delta variant is spreading quickly within the community. So we're taking a small step back because we have the data that shows us that wearing masks while indoors will be able to protect our community. And so that is why we are reinstating the mask requirements. And I'll say more generally, most of the questions that I've gotten in the last few days as new guidance has come out relate to, what else are we going to do over and above this mask requirement that we're discussing today. And I can tell you, we are continually monitoring the situation. Our public health books are working very hard to understand, not just the national best information best practices, but also marry that up with the situation on the ground. Um, and our understanding and what we're going to be doing to combat the virus is going to be changing over time, which makes sense because the virus is going to change over time, infection rates are going to change over time a couple of months ago, delta varying wasn't a term that all of us knew and now obviously it's here and it's important. So, um, what we're trying to do is make sure we always take the next right step and the next right step right now is making sure that we have a mask requirement in our county buildings, that we are providing masks for folks who come into the buildings. And that's our next right step to ensure that people stay safe. So nobody is eager to rule anything in. Nobody is in a position to rule anything out. But what's most important is if we can get people vaccinated, if we can get people not to let their guard down, that will help us eradicate this virus. One of the most important and poignant things that anybody has said to me throughout the pandemic was a hairdresser in Fuquay varina that I was talking to called me as a constituent asking about Covid 19 and she said, I really hope you all do what you need to do to get over to beat this virus so that we can all get back to our lives. And that's exactly right. We need to continue plugging away and doing what we need to do to combat the virus because the sooner we do that, the sooner we get an even greater number of our folks vaccinated, The sooner we can get back to our lives. Pre COVID-19. Absolutely. Thank you. Terry calabria. Um of another question from Adam Owens of W R. E L. Um and dr Matsanga, you you want to take this And I know we've talked about this uh and it's kind of why we're wearing masks, right? You mentioned this. The breakthrough case is the fact that vaccinated people are now testing positive. And uh can you talk about how we're tracking that and and how many were seeing? I know that the state is helping us with that. Right. Right. They are. And so what our team is doing and uh they're taking a look at what we call a breakthrough case. So this is um an individual that test positive. It has been at least two weeks since they have received their last dose of their vaccine. Um And so if it's been two weeks and someone tests positive after having received after having received their vaccine, um then we consider that a breakthrough case. And so we are tracking that information and we are in constant communication with with our state and with um um sharing with them um that information as well. Great. Thank you. I'm looking through to see if there are some other questions. Um I think one thing that we should talk about as I look around to see if any more questions are coming in is that the testing is still widely available in Wake County and it always has been. I know uh chair collaborate, you have you know marveled and praised the program uh that that we have here. But um let's talk about the importance of testing if you guys can sure go ahead. Doctor Misenga. Yes. So what's testing? Um it's free, no appointments are needed and you can drive right up and in many cases people are getting their results in less than seven hours. We're seeing a huge testing surge but there we still have the capacity to handle more volume and are still prepared to scale up if we need to. Um and we have testing and vaccine and all of our Weight County regional centers and Raleigh Wake Forest's Ambulance, a few way marina. And now you can also get self test at home for free. Um, you can just go to wake up dot com slash testing and then you can request an actual test kit. Um, it will be mailed to you via Fedex overnight and you can follow the instructions and you'll be able to mail your sample back to the lab using an already prepaid envelope and then you can go online and check for your results, usually within 1 to 2 days after the sample arrives at the lab. So we have made it incredibly easy, not just for people to get vaccinated but also to get tested. One thing that I don't think most people realize is that Wake County is unique really, in just about all of the country. There are very few places that provide widely available free testing to everyone like Wake County is. And so that's a really important feature. It's a really important service that we're providing to our residents. And so all the more reason why we want to encourage people to utilize that were appropriate to ensure that they are safe, they're being safe around their family and their friends and uh, and dr Michelle and I think you kind of answered this question as you were speaking, but Ana Rivera of Abc 11 had a follow up, um, uh, I guess she had heard from some people that they had a hard time finding somewhere to test on the weekend. I know we do have saturday locations, but as you said, right, we, if we see that there's more demand for testing, we'll add sites, we'll add hours were prepared right to do that. Yes. Our team is prepared to address any surge we see um with increased need of testing within the community. And if I can just add to you mentioned the uh the at home test, we've talked to several people who did that. They requested it online. Uh someone dropped it in the Fedex box around 5:00 on a Monday and Tuesday morning. They had their results, so that's even, you know quicker than maybe you'd see your results at a testing site driving up. So we encourage people to take advantage of that, that option. Another question. Um do we know if what's driving these numbers is Delta? Is it certain activities? Is there any more specificity that we can point to? That might be the culprit here, I think I know the answer. Um But but I mean it's a question, you know, if we could if we could identify something that we could stop doing um you know, certainly we'd advise people to do that. But is there any guidance we can give people about what might be behind this surge? Yes. So we know that this surge um is, is a large percentage delta. Um We are seeing that a majority of cases, more recent cases um are of the delta variant um that has been seen across across the state and nationally and you know, that is uh a variant that spreads more quickly um and is more transmissible um and and is able to get within our community quicker and those that are unvaccinated um are susceptible. Absolutely. I'll make one more call for questions if anybody has a question um to to put that into the chat. I'm not seeing that, but certainly um ping ping me afterwards if you do have questions that uh that we didn't get to hear. Um we've got folks thanking us for the opportunity here. Um someone asking Kayla Morton from CBS 17, when might we consider changing this guidance or reevaluating this guidance? So we are looking at all of the data, we are monitoring the trend and seeing what is happening, um not only within our community but but nationally as well. And really looking to um updates and guidance from our vocal and state and even federal health officials to make those decisions. And and someone asking and we sort of talked about it. Uh, you know, are, well, they're asking specifically our commissioners considering mandating vaccine for all county employees and I guess really, uh chair calabria. Our elected officials don't really decide sort of personnel policy, but obviously um are leaders in guiding those kinds of decisions, I guess. Can we talk a little bit, a bit more about, um, mandating vaccine for our county employees? Yes. So right now, what we're doing is we're giving our public health folks the space and the resources they need to analyze an ever changing situation and to look at what's going on nationally and the information that we're getting from the CDC state, public health and other organizations. It is true that the commissioners will have an opportunity to, to weigh in and to provide feedback. But ultimately, we need to be making our decisions based on the data on the science and the best judgments of people who are experts in this field. We of course, need to consider all the factors. There's never a time when we don't consider all the factors in our decisions. We don't ever make a decision based on one factor or one consideration, a set of considerations. We're always looking at the whole picture, but we're right now. We have just been focusing on the mask requirement, acknowledging that our staff is looking at other steps. We're just not there yet. So perhaps we'll know more next week about additional steps, if any that we're taking. But again, I want to emphasize that all of this is based on the situation on the ground. So the the speed at which we beat this virus depends on the actions of our residents in getting vaccinated and following best practices and the quicker that we can do that and the better we can pull together, the better and quicker we can beat this virus and and share collaborate. Uh josh zack from WPTF uh I think kind of, you know, illustrated in this this question which I think you've already answered How complex and what goes into deciding on a mandate of employees in terms of vaccination or even asking employees about vaccination status, He asked, are there any protections, hip hop, et cetera that could be violated by companies or even the county to ask their employees about this type of personal information. And that's exactly the type of stuff that you're saying we need to take the time to look into, right and do it and do it right? That's right. You know, it's important that we move quickly to address changing circumstances and address the virus, but it's even more important that we make the right next steps. And so right now our folks are doing their homework. Not only do we have public health folks looking at this, but we have um, folks who are on the front lines in our community, we have attorneys who are looking at this. And so it's just premature to say anything. And that's not a way of saying, we secretly want to do things and but aren't or don't want to say yet, we really are just trying to look at the information. Uh, and so again, what I would say is there's not there's not a set of active considerations or active conversations among commissioners about, um, you know, formally taking next steps because we're just not there yet. Right now. We are waiting. We're monitoring, we're thinking, we're of course, talking, um, but uh, but ultimately, what's most important is to provide the support for our public health folks and our state and local experts to make be announced to complete the analyses and provide the recommendations that they need to provide to make good decisions and chair calabria a final question. I hate to end on this. It's kind of a bummer question, but maybe you can uplift us with your closer um Do we feel realistic? This is from kayla morton of Cbs 17 that there is an end to this pandemic? Or is this just a revolving cycle that we're going to mask for a little bit? It will get okay and then we'll go have to go back to it. Maybe because a new variant develops. Um I don't know if either of you would like to respond to that. Uh that that's sort of you know, depressing thought right? Um That this could be our lives going forward. I've got a few thoughts but dr Michelle and I'll defer to you first for for your thoughts. Yes. So this what we've seen throughout this this pandemic is that we have these times where we have surges um we have the surges and we are able to eventually come back down, get the numbers back down. Um I think the important thing is that we have the tools we need um now that we know to be able to live with this this virus in our community. We have we know that masking works, we have vaccine available. So we have these important things to protect our community and I think we have to continue to use them um and continue to monitor what is happening and we don't know what's coming next with if there's a new variant and how um how transmissible it might be. But we we do know that we have tools that do work to help protect and keep our community safe. Yeah, I think that's right. And my personal belief is that this might be the new temporary normal, but it's not the new permanent normal. We're going to continue to chip away at this. I really want to emphasize how well Wake County has done and getting our folks vaccinated. So far. We have more than 76% of our adults having received more than one dose of the vaccine already. And that helps. That makes a tremendous difference in our ability to combat this virus. And of course the better we do on the present variant, the better we're going to do on the next variant unless we're going to see problems related to the next very. And so we've just got to continue chipping away at it and ultimately our faith in our future depends on everyone pulling together and doing what we need to do. But this virus is really difficult because it's not like most other challenges that we face. We are buying nature as human beings, uh, wired to want to come together and to be communal and to communicate and do all the things that we do in our daily lives. But this virus praise on, um, on our very nature and wanting to come together and being in the same place and being with our loved ones and all those sorts of things. And so we just need to be careful. We need to vaccinate ourselves to the extent, um, that we possibly can and get that number as high as we can. And also just be smart about masking social distancing and other practices. Uh, and again, we cannot let our guard down, letting our guard down now is sort of like being in the lead in the last lap of the race and deciding you're just going to take your foot off the gas. It makes no sense. We've got to see this thing through. And so I just want to encourage all of us are employers, our families, our friends, everyone to do what we can to beat this virus. We've made it this far. We just have to make it a little while longer and we should be thinking about who we're doing this for. Not only are we doing this for ourselves, but I'm getting I've gotten vaccinated and I'm wearing my mask to protect my coworkers and my wife who is a frontline health care worker and my daughter who is too young to be vaccinated right now. And my mom down in charlotte when I get to see her who has also gotten fully vaccinated, but obviously we want to keep her safe as well. We are doing this not just for ourselves, but our family and our friends and our way of life. And so that's one of the main reasons why we need to pull together to really beat this virus. Well, great. Thank you chair calabria. Um, I want to thank all of the media who joined us today. Uh thank Dr Matsanga for joining us, uh, and encourage everybody to, to go to our website wake up dot com slash covid. Uh, and there's information about testing, There's information about our vaccine clinics and of course we'll be updating it with this mask information if you're headed to one of your our buildings. Uh, well, if you don't bring a mask, we'll get you one uh and get you served right. Um, our employees are working hard still through this um, and share, collaborate. If you have anything else, I'll let I'll let you close this out now. I thank you Stacy for running our press conference today. We really appreciate everyone's participation and attention. This is going to be perhaps the most important thing that I as the chair of the county Commission work on this year. It's going to be the most important dynamic that we're dealing with as a community. And so I appreciate the time of all the members of the media that we've got today and the attention um of our county residents. So thank you all for joining us and have a good day. Great, thank you.