See which Triangle counties and towns are keeping mask mandates in place, and why

·6 min read

Mask mandates will be sticking around in parts of the Triangle as local officials say key COVID-19 metrics haven’t yet reached levels needed to lift requirements.

Counties including Wake, Durham and Orange, and cities including Raleigh and Cary issued emergency orders in August requiring face coverings to be worn in all indoor public spaces. Local officials say they have been reviewing metrics used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate the level of community spread to determine when it is safe for mandates to be rescinded.

Those metrics include the percentage of new tests that are positive and the number of new cases per 100,000 people.

Cary is expected to make an announcement Thursday about its mandate, which doesn’t have an expiration date, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht told The News & Observer.

And Wake County, which issued its own mask mandate that applies to unincorporated areas and five municipalities that signed onto it, is expected to extend its mandate, which will expire on Nov. 1, according to spokesperson Stacy Beard.

Mandates issued by other counties and municipalities throughout the Triangle are in effect indefinitely, and officials said they plan to keep masking requirements in place until their jurisdictions reach lower levels of community transmission.

In mid-August, when counties across the Triangle and North Carolina put mask mandates in place, all of the state’s 100 counties had high community spread, according to the CDC.

More than two months later, new cases and hospitalizations are dropping in all three counties, but Wake and Durham still have high community transmission, and Orange has substantial community transmission, according to the CDC.

The News & Observer asked county and municipal leaders about their emergency orders requiring face coverings to be worn indoors, and what levels of community spread need to be reached before masks can be taken off.

Wake County

The mask mandate is set to expire on Monday, Nov. 1.

Since transmission remains high, Wake expects to issue a new declaration to replace the expiring mask mandate, Beard said. The new order will contain the same language, but instead of stating a date of expiration, the declaration will make expiration contingent on Wake meeting its goals for lowering community spread, Beard said.

Beard said Wake continues to experience high community transmission, and said the county’s public health team “regularly reviews our epidemiologic data to update our mitigation strategy and measures, including the indoor mask recommendations.”

In order for Wake to lift its mask mandate, community transmission would need to decrease from “high” to “moderate” under the CDC’s definition, Beard said.

That will happen when new cases per 100,000 people fall from their current level, 108, to under 50, and stay at that level for at least seven days, she said.

On the percentage of positive tests, Wake already meets the requirement for transmission to be considered moderate. Currently, the county’s rate of positive tests is 3.38%, under the 8% threshold for moderate transmission, and the 5% threshold for low transmission (the lowest level of community spread).

Beard said the five municipalities that are currently signed onto Wake’s mask mandate will make their own decisions if they want to participate in the county’s extension.

Knightdale will sign onto Wake’s extended mask mandate, Town Manager Bill Summers said in an email.

Rolesville Mayor Ronnie Currin said in an email the town’s board of commissioners will decide Nov. 4, whether they want to join Wake’s extension during a vote.

The News & Observer has asked the other three towns — Garner, Morrisville and Zebulon — if they will sign onto Wake’s extended mandate and will update this story.

Raleigh

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said the city will lift its mandate around the same time the county decides to do so, in order to “be consistent in our message.”

In an interview, Baldwin said people travel in and out of Raleigh to surrounding towns and parts of the county and so relies on guidance from Wake’s public health officials. She said she frequently reviews the county’s level of community spread with Wake officials.

Raleigh’s mask mandate has been in effect since Aug. 13.

Cary

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said in an email Cary will announce a decision on its mask mandate, which has been in effect since Aug. 18, on Thursday.

Durham County

Like Wake, Durham County continues to have high community transmission.

In order to lift its mask mandate, which is currently in effect indefinitely, the county will need to see sustained levels of either moderate or low transmission, said Brenda Howerton, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.

As of Oct. 28, Durham’s rate of positive tests has dropped to 2.95%, below the requirements for moderate or low transmission, but the county is still seeing 103 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC.

Howerton said the county health director updates the board on the county’s level of community spread every other week during board meetings.

She noted that Durham’s metrics are trending in the right direction but said the county also has to keep in mind that children under 12 have not yet been vaccinated and remain vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Vaccines are expected to be authorized for children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the coming days. Once those kids get vaccinated, that “will present even more immunity within our communities,” Howerton said in an email.

Orange County

As of Oct. 28, Orange County is the only Triangle county where transmission is not high, but is one level lower, at substantial.

The county’s mandate will likely remain in place “as long as the need for strong mitigation measures continues,” said county spokesperson Todd McGee.

The percentage of positive tests is 1.59%, and the county is currently seeing 74 cases per 100,000 people.

McGee said county officials will consider transmission rates and other relevant data before modifying or lifting the mask mandate, which is in effect indefinitely.

McGee did not provide specific levels of community spread that Orange County needs to reach before it lifts its mandate, saying that in addition to lowering community transmission, another goal of the mandate is to “ensure our hospitals do not become overrun again.”

“With flu season and cold weather approaching, people will spend more time indoors,” McGee said in an email. “A normal flu season and a sudden spike in COVID cases could once again strain our hospital capacity, putting healthcare workers and patients needing non-COVID medical care at risk.”

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