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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Mecklenburg commissioners approve new rules for when to drop county mask mandate

A KN95 mask and a surgical mask.
Photo illustration by Max Posner/NPR
A KN95 mask and a surgical mask.

Mecklenburg County’s mask mandate will be automatically lifted once the average test positivity rate for COVID-19 in the county falls below 5% for seven days in a row, under a change unanimously passed by county commissioners Wednesday night.

The average test positivity rate as of Oct. 27 was 6%, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

County health director Gibbie Harris told commissioners that the 5% benchmark was based on guidance from federal health officials along with North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) decided these were the numbers based on the data that we have, the research that’s been done and when we can expect to be safe enough not to need to wear masks in our community — or at least for them to be optional,” Harris said.

Once the mandate is lifted Harris said, masks may still be recommended in certain situations — especially for people who are not vaccinated.

“I would hate for people to think that just because we get to that below 5% positivity rate for seven days it’s time to rip the mask off and not think about it anymore,” she said. “If you’re in a situation that’s putting you at risk — especially if you’re unvaccinated — you should still wear a mask.”

Mecklenburg County’s test positivity rate has been steadily decreasing since at least early September when it was around 12%.

The current countywide mask mandate took effect Aug. 31 and requires people to wear masks in indoor public places. It includes Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville and requires everyone older than 5, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, to wear masks indoors in all businesses and establishments. Before Wednesday’s amendment, it was scheduled to last until the county’s test positivity rate fell below 5% for 30 days.

North Carolina’s statewide mask mandate lapsed in July.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.