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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 County could drop mask mandate as early as next week

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 could end as early as next week.

Raynard Washington, the county’s health director, told county commissioners during a meeting Tuesday that if the local COVID-19 trends continue to decline, he would recommend the mask mandate be rescinded. He has previously stated that the omicron surge in the county appears to be receding from a peak that he estimated occurred in mid-January.

"Our case counts have declined by about 65% since the peak (of the omicron surge)," Washington told commissioners Tuesday. "Our percent positivity is down about 45% since the peak. Our hospitalizations are down by about 30% since the peak. So I think this is really encouraging news."

He added: "If we are in a position that this continues, I hope that next Tuesday we'll be in a position to make a recommendation to you guys (commissioners) to rescind the mask mandate."

Mecklenburg County commissioners are scheduled to hold their next meeting Wednesday, Feb. 16. Washington's assertion comes after at least four states – Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon – announced this week that they would lift their statewide mask mandates for schools, NPR reported.

County commissioners voted to reimpose Mecklenburg’s mask mandate in August amid spiking COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations because of the delta variant. The rule requires everyone older than 5 to wear masks indoors in all businesses and establishments. Currently, to remove the mandate, the county’s test positivity rate must fall below 5% for seven consecutive days.

Commission chair George Dunlap has said commissioners would wait for a recommendation from county health leaders before making any changes to the mandate.

“These are the people that we’ve hired to keep this community safe,” Dunlap said at the commission meeting last week.

“If you want to know when the mask mandate will be done away with, it’s when we get a recommendation from our professionals that say that would be in our best interests.”

Gov. Roy Cooper allowed North Carolina’s statewide mask mandate to lapse in late July, though he also urged residents and school districts to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about wearing masks inside.

Even if Washington recommends the mandate be lifted and commissioners approve, it wasn't immediately clear the exact date that would go into effect.

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Updated: February 10, 2022 at 11:01 AM EST
This story was updated Thursday, Feb. 10 to reflect the fact that Mecklenburg County commissioners are not scheduled to meet until Wednesday, Feb. 16.
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.