RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – Despite dropping COVID-19 cases, some Triangle-area leaders say they’re hesitant to remove mask or testing requirements just yet.
Raleigh’s mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin, said she does not want a repeat of the summer surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We lifted off the masks and then boom, had to go right back on,” Baldwin said. “I really don’t want to be in that position again.”
COVID-19 precautions like the indoor mask mandate and required testing for unvaccinated employees in Wake County and the City of Raleigh are contingent on the area reaching both a 5 percent positivity rate and a CDC-defined, low to moderate level of virus transmission.
Larger counties in central North Carolina, like Wake, Durham, and Johnston, have all reached, or are well below a 5 percent positivity rate.
Orange County is down to just under 1.6 percent of its COVID tests returning positive.
“We think that’s an inflated number right now just because there’s so many people that are mandated to get tests to stay on their jobs,” Orange County spokesman Todd McGee said.
But the CDC is still showing high or significant spread in nearly all central North Carolina counties, except Nash, which moved into a “moderate” transmission level on Thursday.
“We are still in a red zone,” Baldwin said. “When the mask mandate can come off, we need to get to below 50 cases per 100,000.”
That’s around a third of Wake county’s current caseload, she said.
Wake County’s mask mandate expires on Nov. 1, but it can be extended.
Stacy Beard, a spokeswoman for Wake County, said in a statement “Wake County is finally moving in the right direction following the recent COVID-19 surge, but key pandemic metrics haven’t yet dropped to levels that allow for any change in recommendations or strategies that are helping us prevent the spread of the virus.”
McGee said Orange county is also not planning to change mandatory testing for county employees or masking indoors until they reach the same markers.
“You’ve got the winter season coming up, you got the flu season coming up, cold weather is going to be here so people are going to be spending more time indoors,” McGee said.
The City of Durham will begin mandatory testing for unvaccinated employees starting Nov. 1.
“The City believes that weekly testing is the best course of action to continue to provide a healthy and safe workplace. As for a decision about ending the mask mandate, Mayor Schewel, along with Durham County Commissioner Chair Brenda Howerton and Public Health Department Director Rod Jenkins are continuing to monitor daily metrics and CDC recommendations, and will reach a decision to end the mask mandate when it’s appropriate, with short-term and long-term best interests of public health in mind,” Durham City spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Town of Cary’s mask mandate expires at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The mayor announced his decision Thursday afternoon citing decreased hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t impose restrictions lightly and I don’t want to keep them in place any longer than absolutely necessary,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.