CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – A popular outdoor concert series is back in business but is it too soon for the sea of crowds?
Three days after Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the outdoor mask mandate, large gatherings with little social distancing are taking place. At the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, the crowds were flowing this weekend.
River Jam was jammed. Hundreds of people packed the outdoor venue for the free concert series. Despite signs asking people to “please wear a face covering and maintain social distancing whenever possible,” there appeared to be minimal distancing and few if any masks in sight.
“It’s nice to be outside and socially distance without a mask,” said Emily Stewart, who attended on Saturday. “It’s been great to be around people again and be around family. It’s wonderful.”
It might be wonderful to some but it’s a concern to the president of the North Carolina Nurses Association.
“There’s lots of concerns about it,” said Dr. Dennis Taylor. “If you have not gotten the vaccine yet, the virus hasn’t gone away. It’s still there. It’s just as virulent, or more so, with the various mutant strains that are still out there, than it ever has been.”
With about 30 percent of the state fully vaccinated, Dr. Taylor urges caution, saying we are not out of the woods yet.
“I would be very cautious if I had not gotten the vaccine about being in an environment, whether it’s outdoors or indoors,,” he said, “with a lot of folks around me not wearing a mask.”
“We would direct you to review NC Executive Order #209 issued last Wednesday, April 28 by Gov. Roy Cooper,” said Whitewater brand director Jesse Hyde in a statement to FOX 46.
Hyde declined to answer questions about the event or future ones. The governor’s latest executive order limits outdoor mass gatherings – including parades, fairs and festivals – to no more than 200 people.
Concerts and other events held at outdoor venues, like River Jam, are subject to a 50 percent occupancy limit or 12 guests for every 1,000 feet. Masks are still “strongly recommended” for everyone, vaccinated or not, in crowded outdoor settings.
“Mecklenburg County Public Health was not consulted about this event,” said Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris. “The limit on outdoor gatherings is now set at 200 per Governor’s Executive order in an effort to avoid overcrowding and increased exposure to COVID-19. There continues to be a recommendation to wear a mask when outdoors and social distancing is not possible or in large gatherings.”
Amusement parks must limit guests to 100 percent of the stated fire capacity.
NORTH CAROLINA DEPTARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services provided FOX 46 with the following statement regarding River Jam and other similar events:
“In light of the continued progress the state has achieved in its key COVID-19 metrics and the reduced risk of transmission of COVID-19 in outdoor settings, under Executive Order 209, Outdoor parades, fairs and festivals are subject to the mass gathering limit of no more than 200 individuals per group that may gather together. However, concerts and other events held at outdoor venues for live performances are subject to a 50% occupancy limit or 12 guests for every 1,000 square feet.
Certain qualifying large outdoor venues can seek approval from NCDHHS to increase capacity limitations. Interested venues should contact NCDHHS at firstname.lastname@example.org. NCDHHS did not receive contact regarding this event.
Social distancing protocol, sanitation standards, other public health restrictions and NCDHHS guidance remain in effect. Our guidance, Requirements for the Use of Face Coverings and Masks, mentions that masks are strongly recommended for all people (vaccinated and unvaccinated) in outdoor settings that are crowded, dense, and higher-risk. Additionally, we have an extensive FAQ on Executive Order 209 that includes more detail.” -Catie Armstrong, NCDHHS press assistant.