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Mecklenburg Commissioners Vote 5-4 To Extend Mask Mandate To Religious Services

Steve Harrison
Mecklenburg Commissioners voted 5-4 Wednesday to require masks in churches and other indoor religious services.

Mecklenburg Commissioners voted 5-4 Wednesday night to extend its mask mandate to churches and other religious services, as well as funerals and weddings.

When the Mecklenburg health department and the county attorney’s office wrote the mask mandate last month, they created an exemption for those places and activities.

But a narrow majority of commissioners said the mandate should apply to all indoor spaces.

Commissioners Leigh Altman, Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, Laura Meier, Mark Jerrell and Ella Scarborough voted to remove the exemption.

Pat Cotham, George Dunlap, Elaine Powell and Vilma Leake voted no.

County Attorney Tyrone Wade had told commissioners he was concerned about whether the county would be overreaching if it required masks for indoor religious services. The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned mass gathering limits placed on churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the courts have not ruled as to whether people worshipping can be required to wear masks.

Rodriguez-McDowell said she pushed to remove the exemption after WFAE reported that Orange and Durham counties had mask mandates that did not have exemptions for religious services.

“Churches are indoor gatherings,” she said. “And this ordinance treats everyone the same. There’s nothing that’s exempt unless you are using your mouth to eat or drink.”

Mecklenburg County’s largest known COVID-19 outbreak happened last year during weeklong services at the United House of Prayer church on Beatties Ford Road.

Mecklenburg health director Gibbie Harris has said last month’s mask mandate extends to private schools. That caused pushback from Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools, which initially said it believed the mandate did not apply to its schools.

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