Monday, August 15, 2022

Health board to reconsider mask mandate next month, public comments open through Nov. 8

The New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board will determine whether to lift the mask mandate or keep it in place during its Nov. 12 meeting. (Port City Daily/File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After two months of New Hanover County being under a second mask mandate since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the health board announced it will readdress the need for face-coverings indoors at its November meeting.

The percent positivity test rate has fallen from 11.46% in mid-August, when the mandate went back into place, closer to health officials’ goal of 5% over the last three weeks. It seems to indicate the latest Covid surge — caused by the highly infections delta variant — is subsiding, at least compared to two months ago when cases were 10 times that of June.

On Aug. 17, New Hanover County Health and Human Services board voted unanimously on a health rule that would mandate face-coverings countywide, allowing a bypass of the 10-day notice normally required to be given to the public. David Howard, New Hanover County’s public health director, issued an order of abatement, in pursuant of general statute 130A-19, 130A-20, and 130A-41, explaining Covid-19 presented a “public health hazard to every resident and visitor to New Hanover County.”

The public was then able to comment through Aug. 30, after the mandate went into place. The health board affirmed the mandate at its Sept. 1 meeting, which was open to the public and had attendees heckling officials during the meeting. A few were removed by deputies.

RELATED: Mask mandate affirmed at boisterous hearing, pitting riled up crowd against health officials

From July 1 to Oct. 20, there have been 6,800 positive Covid-19 cases tracked in the county. Hospitalizations and deaths spiked as well; with 62 deaths, September ended up being New Hanover’s most lethal month so far in the 19-month-long pandemic.

As of Oct. 20, the percent positivity has fallen below health official’s goal and is now 4.8%. New Hanover County has had an average of 32 new cases over the last 14-day period, it noted in a press release. By comparison, 217 cases were reported in New Hanover in June, 705 cases within the first three weeks of July, and 1,152 within the first 17 days of August.

“The board made a commitment to revisit the health rule when we got to a five percent positivity rate in the county and we have reached that mark, so it is reasonable for us to consider this soon and determine how we move forward,” Health and Human Service Board Chair LeShonda Wallace said in a press release.

Wallace expressed the desire to ensure numbers remained low before moving forward to lift the mandate.  

“We have only recently reached some of those goals, so we want to analyze that in the coming weeks, and ensure this positive data is sustainable,” she said. “We will discuss this as a board at our special meeting and hear from the public as well, to determine how we move forward.”

The county noted it would like to see a sustainable rate of fewer than 100 new cases a day and a continued decrease in hospitalizations to consider dropping the mask mandate. As of last week, New Hanover Regional Medical Center averaged 32 patients a day, which has lessened to 25 this week.

“We’re certainly pleased to see our COVID-related metrics continuing to decline in a positive direction,” Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko said in a press release. “The commitment our community has taken in using preventative measures, like masks, and to get vaccinated are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in New Hanover County. We encourage everyone to remain diligent and help these metrics continue to fall.”

Public comments about the mandate will be open through Monday, Nov. 8, and can be submitted here for public record. The public can also attend the board meeting Friday, Nov. 12, 8 a.m., in person; comments will be limited to 3 minutes each person, with the comment period lasting 15 minutes in total. The meeting will be held in the multipurpose room of the New Hanover County Health and Human Services building (1650 Greenfield St.); it will be streamed live at and on Spectrum Cable channel 13.

The county has a 61% single-dose vaccination rate, compared to 58% being fully vaccinated. In the past, health officials have desired at least 70% vaccination to reach some level of herd immunity, as based on immunizations only — not natural immunity.

Boosters have now been cleared for all FDA-emergency authorized vaccines; the county offers vaccinations and booster shots at its clinics. NHRMC also offers appointments.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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