Durham County enacts state of emergency over COVID cases

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham City and County officials announced Saturday that a State of Emergency will go into effect at 5 p.m. Monday.

The declaration comes in response to the rising cases of COVID-19 largely resulting from the Delta variant, authorities said. It applies to the county and to the City of Durham.

"It is unfortunate we are in this situation, but the Delta variant is extremely dangerous," Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said. "Our local cases have grown exponentially over the last weeks and instituting a mask mandate is once again necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself and our vulnerable neighbors."

The State of Emergency calls for face coverings to be worn indoors, even among those who are fully vaccinated.

Durham residents are also encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"The best way to curb the development of variants and stop the spread remains vaccination," Schewel said. "Vaccines are safe and highly effective, free, and widely available in Durham. The City and County are also doubling down on our efforts to take vaccines into many of our communities. If you have not been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to do so today."
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Durham County leaders implemented this State of Emergency because the positive rate of infection countywide doubled from 2.3 to 4.6 percent. in the past month.

"I am signing this new State of Emergency for Durham residents because it is important that we leaders do all we can to ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors," said Durham County Board of Commissioners Chair Brenda Howerton. "Experiencing the impact of the rapidly moving Delta variant reminds us that we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts by following the 3 Ws -- Wear, Wash and Wait."

The challenge will be enforcing this measure

"All we can do is ask. We're not at the stage where we can make people wear masks," Howerton said. "We are adamant about taking care of the people here in Durham. We'll see what Raleigh and the other counties do."

Under the State of Emergency, face coverings must be worn in any indoor public place, business or establishment. There are exceptions, however.

Face coverings do not need to be worn by someone who:
  • should not wear a face covering because of any medical or behavioral condition or disability, including, but not limited to, any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to put on or remove the face covering without assistance;
  • Is younger than 5;
  • Is actively eating or drinking;
  • Is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible;
  • Is giving a speech or performance for a broadcast, or to an audience, where they maintain a distance of at least 20 feet from the audience. Performers/presenters/speakers who have been vaccinated must maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from the audience and for those who are vaccinated and do not face the audience no minimum distance is necessary;
  • is working at home or is in a personal vehicle;
  • is temporarily removing their face covering to secure government or medical services or for identification purposes;
  • would be at risk from wearing a face covering at work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulations or workplace safety guidelines;
  • has found that their face covering is impeding visibility to operate equipment or a vehicle;
  • is a child whose parent, guardian, or responsible person has been unable to place the face covering safely on the child's face.


The State of Emergency also allows an accommodation for businesses to apply if someone offers an "acceptable exemption" to wearing a face covering. In such cases, a business may offer curbside service, provide home delivery, or use another "reasonable measure" to deliver goods or services.

On Saturday, Durham resident Shannon Simmons was out running errands. She picked up dinner at a restaurant, where she did not wear a mask inside.

Although the State of Emergency takes effect Monday, she said she will use her judgment for how she wants to handle wearing masks.

"If I go into a restaurant and they don't require it or don't want to then I'm OK with that," Simmons said. "If I go into a restaurant and they require it, then I will listen to that."

On Sunday, D'Nae Henderson was already masked while working at the Bowerbird Botanical Bar inside the Durham Food Hall.

"Someone actually came into the shop, well before this requirement, wearing their mask," Henderson said. "And I asked, 'Why?' They said, 'If I'm just walking into a place for five minutes, I care about the workers who are there for eight hours. There's no need to pass my germs onto someone I'm only going to see in passing, and I might do something that affects their life irrevocably.' And that's how I think about it. It's not a big deal. I have a beautiful mask!"

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The positive rate of infections in the state is 12.2%.

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