Pointing to a decline in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, New Hanover County’s health board on Friday lifted its face coverings rule that had been in place for indoor spaces.
The board voted 8-4 for the lifting, and the change takes effect immediately, officials said.
In August, the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board voted for the requirement
that applied to anyone over the aeg of 2 regardless of vaccination status, though the board’s rule did include some exceptions. At the time the delta variant’s spread was causing an uptick in new cases.
“Since the rule’s enactment on August 31, New Hanover County’s metrics have improved significantly, and after researching and reviewing that information over the past several weeks, the board determined that the health rule could end,” a news release stated.
Those metrics, according to the release, included:
- “Percent positivity rate for the past 14 days: currently 2.7 percent and is below the desired threshold of 5 percent.
- Number of positive cases per day: an average of 14.5 new cases over the past 14 days (for a total of 203 cases over the past 14 days).
- Current COVID-19 outbreaks in the county: a total of four and not deemed to impact the community as a whole.
- Status of NHRMC related to the number of people hospitalized with an active case of COVID-19: around 9 patients are currently hospitalized, showing there is currently no burden on our local healthcare system.
- Overall metrics from our state and region, as it relates to possible impacts to our local community.”
Even with the countywide requirement lifted, entities like health care facilities, schools and private businesses can continue to require face coverings inside if they want, officials said.
The New Hanover County Board of Education voted earlier this week to hold off on a decision about the school system’s masking policy until after Friday’s health board vote. The school board is scheduled to meet Monday to again discuss masking. School boards in Brunswick and Pender counties have both made masks optional for schools there.
“While the board has repealed the health rule, we still strongly encourage residents, especially those who have not been vaccinated or are at greater risk of severe health impacts from the virus, to wear a mask in public indoor places particularly crowded spaces like public transportation,” Health and Human Service Board Chair LeShonda Wallace said in a statement Friday. “As part of the board’s decision today, the HHS Board voted to continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics in the county and if those spike again – including a percent positivity rate over 5 percent, daily case counts above 100, and burden of COVID-19 hospitalizations on our healthcare system’s capacity – the board may reconsider implementing the health rule again. Our goal is to protect the entire community and reduce the impact of disease, and that will continue to be our focus.”