Local governments in NC bring back mask mandates as COVID-19 cases surge in the unvaccinated

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With the CDC recommending all people wear masks in public indoor settings in more than 90 percent of the state’s counties, some local governments began requiring people to wear them in their buildings Monday regardless of their vaccination status.

Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International, said North Carolina is at an “inflection point.”

“We need to use all of our tools, the public health tools and the vaccinations, to make sure we’re not in a perilous situation in September,” she said. “We need to quickly turn this around.”

As of July 23, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said more than 94 percent of COVID-19 cases are among people who are not fully vaccinated. The CDC has said more than 97 percent of people in the hospital due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

With the spread of the delta variant, cases and hospitalizations have risen quickly in the state.

On Monday, DHHS reported 1,359 people are in hospitals across the state due to COVID-19, which is up from 381 a month ago. The agency also reported 58 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

“People who are vaccinated can still get infected with the virus and transmit the virus quite effectively. And, that is different from the earlier variants,” MacDonald said. “Not only are we learning more and more with each day, but the virus is also changing with each day. And so, it’s a fluid situation.”

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has not issued a mask mandate but is urging people to follow the latest CDC guidance, which calls for people to wear masks regardless of vaccination status in counties with substantial or high spread of the virus. To view the map, click here.

“We can’t let this debate over masks overshadow our effort to get people vaccinated because that is the way to put this thing behind us,” he said last week.

Various local governments throughout the region, including Wake County, reinstated mask requirements in government buildings Monday.

Michael Stewart and Melanie Benning came by the Wake County Justice Center to pick up their marriage license ahead of their wedding next month.

While they’re vaccinated, they said they think requiring masks is an appropriate step to take. They are also taking precautions during their wedding.

Benning said the even will be “socially distanced, we’re going to be seated in pods and then keeping our numbers small. Immediate family only.”

“But, I am optimistic at some point we’ll be beyond it,” she said.

Dr. Jennifer Green, health director for Cumberland County, said all the critical trends are going in the wrong direction.

“I’m very concerned about what our numbers will look like over the next four to six weeks,” she said. “Absent people getting vaccinated and continuing to wear their masks, we are going to continue to see negative trends. This is not a challenge that’s going to go away without action.”

She told county commissioners Monday that vaccinated people account for a “very small” amount of COVID-19 transmission, and that nearly all hospitalizations involve people who are unvaccinated.

“We are seeing this rapid increase in the delta variant, which is much more contagious than previous strains of the virus. So, that means that even if you’re vaccinated, we need you to wear your mask,” she said. “We need you to hang on with us a little bit longer.”

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