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‘No way that is COVID-free.’ Mecklenburg health leader skeptical of Duke’s Mayo Classic

‘No way that is COVID-free.’ Mecklenburg health leader skeptical of Duke’s Mayo Classic
‘No way that is COVID-free.’ Mecklenburg health leader skeptical of Duke’s Mayo Classic(AP)
Published: Sep. 5, 2021 at 1:24 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The huge influx of out-of-town-visitors to Charlotte this weekend for Duke’s Mayo Classic college football games is a nerve-wracking prospect for Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris.

During a news conference Friday afternoon, Harris expressed concern that thousands of fans at the Georgia-Clemson game at Bank of America Stadium Saturday might not be familiar with Mecklenburg’s reinstated mask mandate.

That’s in contrast to a typical Panthers game, Harris said, where the county health department has been in close communication with team officials.

Face coverings are now required in all public settings as the Charlotte region tries to slow the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which has led to soaring infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The local mask mandate took effect Tuesday.

“We want people to understand that you’re in an outdoor stadium, yes — but there’s 75,000 people there,” Harris said of Duke’s Mayo Classic.

The first game of the classic, where Appalachian State topped East Carolina, was held Thursday night.

“You have to know that there are cases of COVID in that crowd,” Harris added. “There is no way that is COVID-free... People need to take responsibility and wear a mask. Enjoy the game but be extremely cautious as far your interactions with other people. "

‘JUST THINK STRATEGICALLY’

For now, Harris said the health department is not recommending large outdoor events be canceled. She said health officials are educating people about safety guidelines and urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But Harris also offered a note of caution that seemed to discourage people from attending the Mayo Classic amid the delta surge.

“If you’re in a situation where there’s a lot of people that are unmasked, remove yourself from that situation,” the health director said. “There’s a lot of things that you can do that are fun (and) outdoors this weekend that don’t require you to be in large crowds. Just think strategically about that.”

Proof of vaccination is not required at the Mayo Classic, according to the game’s website. But all guests must wear masks in indoor spaces, including the concourses on the 300 and 400 levels.

There will be enhanced cleaning at Bank of America Stadium, and hand sanitizer stations will be available. There will also be mobile tickets and cashless payments at concession stands.

GET TESTED FOR COVID

As Harris sees it, Mecklenburg County is at yet another pandemic tipping point.

“We have the ability in this community for things to get worse or for things to get better,” Harris said. “A lot of that is dependent on our behavior.”

Harris and Deputy Public Health Director Raynard Washington urged residents to stay cautious during Labor Day gatherings, particularly with the high rate of COVID-19 transmission in Mecklenburg. Charlotte hospitals cannot sustain this ongoing surge, Harris said.

People should stay home if they have mild symptoms, like a cough or headache, and get tested for COVID-19 out of an abundance of caution. That’s a better alternative, Washington said, than needing to tell friends or family they were exposed to the virus.

“We’re at a place right now where any unexplained illness should be considered COVID until proven otherwise,” Harris said.

On average, Mecklenburg is adding about 550 new coronavirus cases daily, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier this summer, the daily caseload had dropped below 40.

Just 57% of Mecklenburg residents are at least partially vaccinated, according to N.C. DHHS.

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