The director of the Cumberland County health department on Tuesday said she plans to rescind an order that requires people to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces.
Dr. Jennifer Green said she will rescind the Public Nuisance Mask Abatement Order beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“There’s still some risk there,” she said Tuesday during a virtual meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Health.
The recommendation aligns with the Feb. 21 effective date for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services updated quarantine guidance for K-12 schools and childcare centers, and allows time for organizations to update and implement their own masking policies and procedures, the county said in a release.
Green bases her recommendations on the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The CDC order that requires face masks to be worn by all people at indoor transportation hubs and while on public transportation, including school buses and vans, remains in place.
The Cumberland County abatement order was implemented on Aug. 27 during the onset of the Delta Variant of COVID-19. It required people to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces.
But improvements in COVID-19 metrics, increasing availability of testing, vaccinations and boosters and authorized treatment options prompted the decision to rescind the order.
“Despite rescinding of the formal abatement order, the Cumberland County Department of Public Health still strongly encourages residents to wear a well-fitted mask while in indoor settings,” the county said in the release.
The COVID-19 infection positivity rate peaked in the state at 36.3% on Jan. 22 and has decreased to 14.4% as of Feb. 15, the county said.
Cumberland County said its positivity rate has decreased from 37.8% on Jan. 31 to 25.5% on Feb. 15.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Cape Fear Valley Health System’s hospitals within Cumberland County has dropped from 172 on Jan. 31 to 106 as of Feb. 15, the county said.
While that rate has continued to decline, there has been an increase in the number of deaths to the coronavirus.
In January, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center experienced 90 COVID-19 related deaths. So far in February, 15 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported.
“I am supportive of your stance that you are suggesting,” Dr. Sam Fleishman, the chief medical officer for the Cape Fear Valley Health System, said during the meeting.
Last week, the Cumberland County Board of Education in a 5-4 vote decided to go with optional face masks for the first time since students returned for in-school instruction in 2021. That policy is scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday.
Until that Feb. 8 vote, masks had been mandatory inside schools. The board is required by state law to vote on the mask policy each month.
The state Department of Health and Human Services provides COVID-19 guidance updates to schools statewide.
“We will be working with the school system on the messaging of this,” Green said. “This is not a risk-free option. We’re in a challenging place right now. We're moving in the right direction. We are not talking about wearing a mask forever, but we specifically care that we need to make sure we're protecting those (residents) and not overwheloming our hospitals."
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.