CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leaders recommended a new, indoor county-wide mask mandate Monday at a meeting of the county's COVID-19 policy group. The meeting came as counties and cities across the U.S. reimplement face masks due to the surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Here is when the new Mecklenburg County mask mandate would take effect:
- Expected to happen Wednesday, the mask mandate would take effect throughout the City of Charlotte and in unincorporated areas of Mecklenburg County starting immediately on Wednesday.
- On Wednesday, the Mecklenburg County commission is expected to vote on a "public health bill" to extend the mask mandate to the towns within Mecklenburg County, including Huntersville, Matthews, Cornelius, Pineville, Davidson and Mint Hill. If approved, the towns would have 10 days to comply. Their local town councils could choose to comply at any time within the 10-day window starting Wednesday.
The recommended mask mandate is expected to be similar to the mandate previously seen in Mecklenburg County, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio explained Monday. Those not obeying the mask mandate would be asked to comply or leave establishments. Failure to comply could give police the option to charge someone with trespassing, Diorio explained.
The county is also looking into fines for those who do not comply with the mandate this time, officials said Monday.
"We'll wear a mask -- we'll do whatever they tell us to do," said Charles Read, owner of Queen City Craft and Gourmet near Ballantyne.
However, he has mixed reviews on the new mandate.
"To me, that sends the wrong message," he said. "That sends the message to the people who have not been vaccinated that what's the point? We all have to wear a mask anyway, why getting vaccinated? And that needs to not be the message."
"The message needs to be we need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can so that we can put this behind us and move forward," he continued.
Diorio said a vaccine-mandate or vaccine verification approach for entrance to certain establishments was never on the table nor discussed at the policy group's meeting on Monday.
"Right now, the push is to see if we can't manage this pandemic through a mask mandate," Diorio said. "If that doesn't work, we'll go back and see what else or what other options are available, and we'll bring that to the group and see how we would do that, or I'm not even sure what authority we would have to do that."
The mandate is still being written so details on how it will exactly work and what exceptions, if any, will be made are still not known.
A spokesperson for the county did tell WCNC Charlotte that working out indoors will not be an exception, so anyone working out indoors will have to still be masked.
Monday night, commissioners in the Town of Cornelius voted 3-2 against implementing a mask mandate. However, the mayor said they would follow one if it's passed by the Mecklenburg County commissioners.
Mayor Knox in the Town of Davidson told WCNC Charlotte he will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss and potentially vote on a mask mandate that could go into effect before the county-wide rule is enforced (if it's approved by Mecklenburg County Commissioners).
Gibbie Harris, public health director for the county, said five additional deaths were reported over the weekend and that hospitals in the area were stressed, but still able to manage. The possibility things could get worse for those hospitals, however, was very real to health leaders.
Harris noted the county has now hit a percent positive rate of at least 13%, and cases have raised more than 87% in the last two weeks. Harris also noted the positivity rate varied by zip code. Some areas have a positivity rate of 4%, but others were as high as 17%.
Harris also said anyone recommended to get a third or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will not need to provide medical documentation but reiterated the additional dose is only for those who are immunocompromised. She asked the community to look at the CDC requirements and to honestly follow them. She also expressed worry about the upcoming holiday weekend, noting a history of increased COVID-19 cases after such weekends in Mecklenburg County.
Federal data showed vaccinations are up. White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain said in a Twitter post on Friday that COVID-19 vaccinations had reached their highest 24-hour total since before July 4: with 918,000 doses administered and 576,000 newly vaccinated, up from 821,000 and 565,000 respectively last Friday.
Because North Carolina is still in a state of emergency, the mayor of any city can implement a mask mandate.
Earlier this week in a statement Mayor Vi Lyles said, "At this time, we have not received a recommendation to reinstitute the mask mandate. If we do get that recommendation, I along with the mayors and other elected officials will discuss and consider that recommendation."
On Monday, Diorio indicated Lyles' continue support for any recommended mask mandate.
WCNC Charlotte joined multiple other media outlets in a letter to the county pushing for transparency, arguing the meeting should be open to the public based on who is meeting in the room and because of the subject matter impacting the public. However, Diorio said in a response to a question about the need for policy group meetings to be public that their county attorney said the group's meetings were not required to under a North Carolina statute, saying the group was not legally needed to hold open meetings.