Wake County will require masks inside its buildings starting Monday regardless of vaccination status — a move aimed at curbing rising COVID-19 cases.
The mandate does not extend to schools, a decision that the Wake Board of Education will make on its own. Also, the county will monitor the virus and consider relaxing the policy when numbers improve.
“This virus preys on our very nature: wanting to be together,” Board of Commissioners Chair Matt Calabria said. “Letting our guard down now is like being in the last lap of the race and taking your foot off the gas.”
Later Friday, Raleigh officials announced they would also require masks inside city buildings starting Monday. Extras will be available for those without masks.
Wake has seen cases rise by 279% since June, Calabria said, and the positive test rate is the highest in the past five months.
The county recently reached a milestone when 70% of its residents became fully vaccinated, but the delta variant is complicating progress, said Dr. Nicole Mushonga, Wake’s assistant physician director and epidemiology program director.
The delta variant is 60% more contagious, and though such instances are rare, even vaccinated people have become infected.
“We know that the surge is a large percentage delta,” Mushonga said. “We are seeing that a majority of cases, more recent cases, are of the delta variant. ... That is a variant that spreads more quickly, is more transmissible and gets into our community more quickly. Those who are unvaccinated are susceptible.”
County leaders urged vaccination as the best way to combat the virus’ spread, noting that Wake is one of the only counties nationwide to offer free testing and shots. She noted that the majority of hospitalizations and deaths are striking unvaccinated patients.
On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper blamed the unvaccinated for the virus’ resurgence, striking an urgent tone for the need for shots. He will require masks for some state employees, and the state will urge face coverings for school children in elementary and middle schools.
“This might be the new temporary normal,” Calabria said, adding, “We’ve just got to continue chipping away at it.”