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‘Not ready to issue a mandate’: Mecklenburg Co. health leaders still urge mask-wearing regardless of vaccination status

The CDC recommends that people in areas with “high” or “substantial” COVID-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors, no matter what a person’s vaccination status is.
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 3:43 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new COVID-19 recommendations on Tuesday.

Health officials are pushing for even vaccinated people to return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.

The CDC is recommending the new guidance, which is a change of course from its previous recommendation, because of the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to the CDC website, Mecklenburg County is listed as an area with a high level of transmission.

The CDC recommends that people in areas with “high” or “substantial” COVID-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors, no matter what a person’s vaccination status is.

Because of the increase in transmissions, Mecklenburg County Health Public Health Director Gibbie Harris says she strongly encourages people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors.

“Individuals are getting milder cases, so vaccinations are working,” Harris said. “However, those individuals, if have a breakthrough case, they may still be spreading the virus. That’s one of the reasons we are asking them to wear masks.”

Harris was asked if it was fair for vaccinated people to continue to wear masks in public.

The health director said that even though a person may be vaccinated, they can carry the virus and spread it to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated.

“It’s not a matter of fairness,” Harris said. “We have people who are not being vaccinated for a number of reasons because of medical reasons, or they are too young or they are hesitant. We have a job to protect the community. Encouraging vaccinations and masking is what we have to do.”

Harris did say that, at this point, she is only urging people to wear masks, and it is not a mandate.

“I am not ready to issue a mandate at this point,” Harris said. “I would like to think that our community will step up and do what is necessary, and that is increasing vaccinations and masking at the time being.”

Harris also said she has provided a recommendation to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that all students and staff wear masks in schools, especially those between kindergarten and 8th-grade.

“There’s a number of reasons for that, especially in the k through 8th-grade age groups because there is not the ability to vaccinate the children, so having the mask there to reduce spreading in that setting is important,” Harris said. “One of the main things we are focusing on is having our children stay in school as much as possible. Having vmasks in school is going to increase the likelihood that children won’t be sent home to quarantine because they have been exposed, so that has been recommended to the superintendent and to the school staff.”

The Mecklenburg County Public Health Department announced that all employees must be vaccinated. That also goes for Atrium Health and Novant Health workers, those organizations announced last week.

Two weeks ago, Harris discussed the concern of increasing COVID-19 cases within the county.

She said the majority of the cases now are among people younger than 39 years old.

When it comes to the things the county tracks, like hospitalizations, percent positive and overall cases, all three of those measures have increased in the last few weeks.

They say it’s part to do with the Delta variant, which they officially confirmed was found in Mecklenburg County. Another problem is that just 50 percent of the county is vaccinated, not enough to be in herd immunity.

Harris says the overwhelming majority of the new cases are people who are not fully vaccinated. Both Novant and Atrium said that was the case with hospitalizations as well.

The county is urging people to get vaccinated, emphasizing the vaccine is effective and safe. She says it’s time to do it now since we know the Delta variant is in the community and much more transmissible.

The county says they’ve seen an increase in cases among kids, especially teenagers. 77% of cases are being reported in people under the age of 39.

Harris says although there have been some instances of people getting the virus while fully vaccinated, she says their symptoms are typically non-existent.

“All of our data is pointing to the fact that if you are unvaccinated, you are more likely to be infected and much more likely to have severe illness and complications and need for hospitalization and in some cases death result of not being vaccinated,” said Harris.

Highlights about the 115,387 COVID-19 cases reported in Mecklenburg County as of July 14, 2021.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

Charlotte resident Kimmery Martin is a former ER doctor, novelist and a mother. She spoke to WBTV Wednesday evening regarding the increase in COVID cases across the country.

Martin explained that she previously contracted the coronavirus and is still dealing with a couple of long-term symptoms.

“It’s hard to describe how different I feel compared to before I contracted it. I do not feel like the same person,” said Martin.

She said she believes she contracted the virus from one of her children. She still deals with a warped sense of smell and a fast heart rate. The Charlotte mother said the rising case numbers are a concern to her.

“Don’t wind up like me. I was not as careful as I could have been and I really regret it. Even if it’s hard, wear a mask indoors if you’re unable to distance from people or your around a lot of people,” cautioned Martin.

As a mother of three children, Martin knows how learning interruptions can impact the school year. She said she’s hopeful the COVID-19 disruptions can be avoided this coming year if people follow the proper protocols.

“I don’t want to see the schools shut down. Nobody wants to see that,” said Martin. “I think we can safely keep schools open if we are able to mask and distance when needed, when rates are higher in a community at a given time. I think that’s a really small price to pay for letting the children go to school.”

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