Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Reimpose Mask Mandate As Delta Variant Surges Across North Carolina
Masks will be required in indoor public places in the city of Charlotte and unincorporated areas of Mecklenburg County starting Wednesday at 5 p.m., making it among the largest cities in the South to have a mask mandate. The measure applies to anyone 5 years old and older, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, and will last until at least Sept. 1.
A countywide mask mandate will go into effect Aug. 28 after Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted 6-2 Wednesday to reimpose the mandate amid spiking coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations.
Exceptions to the requirement include people who should not wear masks because of a medical or behavioral condition or a disability and people who are actively eating or drinking.
The countywide mandate, or public health rule, includes Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville. It requires everyone older than 5 to wear masks indoors in all businesses and establishments. That includes private schools, which weren’t subject to the previous mask mandate enacted in 2020 by Gov. Roy Cooper.
It will last until the county’s test positivity rate falls below 5% for 30 days and the community transmission is not high or substantial, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The mask mandates were recommended by county officials at a news conference on Monday, following a closed-door meeting of a COVID-19 policy group. Officials said the recommendations were necessary because of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly. North Carolina's statewide mask mandate lapsed at the end of July.
"The hope is that with a little bit of extra push, people will get the message and pay attention and start doing the right thing," Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said.
Mecklenburg County Commissioners Pat Cotham and Ella Scarborough voted no on the county mandate. Cotham said she was uncomfortable requiring the mask mandate for the county’s six towns, some of whom, like Huntersville, have questioned the new rules.
“I cannot support anything where we are forcing another body of government to do what they may not choose to do,” Cotham said.
But Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said the increase in COVID-19 cases means the county must act for everyone, including the towns.
“I just don’t understand this tying to liberty and freedom that I hear over and over again,” Rodriguez-McDowell said. “I don’t know how there can be liberty and freedom when disease is allowed to run rampant.”
The mandate does have exemptions — most notably for weddings, funerals, and religious services. Harris, the county health director, said that was in line with Cooper’s 2020 mask mandate that was repealed earlier this year when cases dropped after vaccinations became widely available.
“And yes I heard the threats you’ll move out of Mecklenburg County. There are probably places that will welcome you and welcome your ways. But in Mecklenburg County, the county health rule is what applies to everyone for the good of Mecklenburg County.”
During the meeting, several people spoke against the mandate. Some shouted at commissioners before they voted. Commission chair George Dunlap asked that police escort them from the Government Center.
“And yes I heard the threats you’ll move out of Mecklenburg County,” Dunlap said. “There are probably places that will welcome you and welcome your ways. But in Mecklenburg County, the county health rule is what applies to everyone for the good of Mecklenburg County.”
The county says violating the mask mandate could result in a misdemeanor.
In a news release on Wednesday, city and county officials said that business owners must require customers to wear a mask if they do not qualify for one of the exemptions. They also said business owners should call Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and report trespassing if customers refuse to comply and refuse to leave the premises of the business. CMPD Maj. Dave Johnson echoed that during a news conference Wednesday morning.
"We would not enforce the mask mandate, in particular," Johnson said. "If it rises to the level of a disturbance and someone is refusing to leave the property after being told to do so by somebody who has the right to tell them to leave the property, then we would handle that as any other trespassing call."
Other city and county governments in North Carolina have recently reissued mask mandates. The city of Raleigh issued a proclamation that took effect Friday requiring masks for all people in grocery stores, pharmacies, businesses, restaurants, bars, gyms and public transit, among other places. Durham County and the city of Durham have reinstated their mask requirements, along with the town of Boone, Guilford County and Orange County, which includes the town of Chapel Hill.
Buncombe County is expected to vote Wednesday on once again requiring masks inside businesses and other indoor settings, according to commission chair Brownie Newman, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in recent weeks began mandating masks in city and county buildings. County Manager Dena Diorio said in a memo in early August that Mecklenburg’s measure was enacted “due to the county’s high rates of COVID-19 transmission.” The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center is still closed to the public, aside from meetings of the Charlotte City Council, Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners or the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.
Mecklenburg County will also begin checking employees’ vaccination status on Sept. 1. Anyone who is not vaccinated will be required to take a weekly COVID-19 test and present a negative result to human resources starting Sept. 7.
Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County’s public health department has said it will require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The agency has said all of its roughly 900 full-time, part-time and temporary employees must show proof of vaccination by Sept. 7.
WFAE's Sarah Delia contributed reporting to this story.