CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said she believes people should wear face masks inside and outside to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While coronavirus cases and hospitalizations sharply climb in the region, Lyles said she is waiting to see whether N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announces a statewide face mask mandate this week.
That will be the deciding point for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leaders to continue their discussions on potentially imposing a local mask requirement, Lyles said at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“I would just say we have to wait and see,” Lyles told City Council member Braxton Winston, who had pressed the mayor for what conditions could trigger a city mandate — especially if Cooper doesn’t move forward with an executive order.
“I wear a mask. I believe if I’m wearing one, it really makes a difference,” Lyles said. She did not wear a face covering but mostly sat at a distance from other city officials in the Government Center.
Cooper is expected to announce the state’s next reopening steps this week with Phase Two scheduled to end Friday. But the state continues to see increases in coronavirus cases, percentage of tests that are positive and hospitalizations. Cooper has hinted at the possibility of a “Phase 2.5,” and last week said a cloth mask requirement is “absolutely in discussion” for the general public.
Raleigh’s face covering requirement took effect Friday afternoon. And masks were already required in Orange and Durham counties.
Those municipalities are grappling with enforcement hurdles, Fire Chief Reginald Johnson told City Council members on Monday. But Winston blasted that concern, saying a mask order should be in place for Charlotte residents by now.
“You can’t wait to implement rules until you figure out how to police them,” Winston said. “Wearing face coverings will save lives.”
Johnson said emergency management officials also need more time to speak with local businesses owners, particularly smaller independent stores that could have difficulty providing masks to customers.
“It would only be fair to the businesses in the city, as well as in the county, before arbitrarily picking an effective date for face coverings and how it would affect them,” Johnson said.
City Council member Dimple Ajmera questioned the need for more deliberation in the business community. Action must come sooner rather than later, Ajmera said.
“Mecklenburg County has the most amount of cases in the state, and that is continuing to rise,” Ajmera said. “I’m concerned about the capacity in hospitals and also the safety of our healthcare workers.”
There were 8,510 coronavirus cases and 143 related deaths among county residents as of Monday afternoon, Mecklenburg officials said.
County commissioners are also pushing for a mask mandate, asking public health officials to return with a recommendation by their July meeting, County Manager Dena Diorio said Friday. Yet for weeks, Diorio has emphasized there’s not countywide support within Mecklenburg’s six towns to make that action possible.
City Manager Marcus Jones said Monday that Charlotte favors a mask mandate. Still, Jones advocated for Charlotte to work jointly and consistently with surrounding towns to manage the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.