Durham to lift mask mandate next week

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

8:49 p.m.
The City and County of Durham will remove the indoor mask mandate, effective March 7 at 12:01 a.m., Durham Public Health Director Rod Jenkins announced at Monday's Durham County Commissioners' Board meeting.

Durham officials said that the metrics, including the laboratory testing positivity rate, now at 4.8%, and in-patient bed count, currently at 134 across Durham healthcare facilities, are continuing to trend downward.

"This continues to be a fluid situation," Jenkins said, "We will continue to monitor the data on case counts after the mandate is dropped. Also, if a new variant arises, it may be possible that we'll need to take more aggressive action, including reinstating the mask mandate."

Officials continue to urge the public to get their vaccinations and their booster as well.

"With this welcome news, I cannot urge the public enough to get their vaccinations, if they have not already," said Mayor Elaine O'Neal. "Even though we have a high number of residents who are vaccinated and have received their boosters, too many have not. We do know from the data that those who are unvaccinated experience more severe COVID-19 symptoms that can lead to hospitalization, which is a key metric that factored into our decision to lift the mask mandate."

Even though the wearing of masks will not be required after midnight on March 7, O'Neal urged kindness during this time of transition.

"Although the mandate will be lifted, it's still OK to wear a mask if it makes you feel more comfortable in public settings," she said. "This move simply allows people to make their own choice. Dealing with this pandemic has been hard for everyone. Now's the time to be kind to each other."

According to federal and CDC guidelines, masks are still required in healthcare facilities and on all public transportation. Officials will continue to monitor the critical metrics in the coming weeks.

2 p.m.

COVID-19 metrics continue to improve across North Carolina.

NCDHHS reported just 909 new COVID-19 cases Monday with just a 6.9 percent positive rate.

For comparison, last Monday saw more than 2,000 new cases with a percent positive rate of 10.7%.

Last Monday, 2,296 people were in the hospital with the virus. Now that number is down to 1,618.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
New mask guidelines take effect at NC State on Monday.

Masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings. The university said improving COVID-19 metrics are allowing for a relaxation of face-covering rules.

Face coverings will still be required in all classrooms, laboratories and on Wolfline buses.

COVID-19 tests are no longer required, but the university said free testing will still be available to everyone.

Full details here.

FRIDAY
4:10 p.m.
The UNC System announced that all system schools should be mask-optional starting March 7 unless their local guidelines require masks.
For UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, since the Orange County Health Department announced last week that the county's indoor mask requirement would remain in place, the university will continue to follow that guidance and require masks indoors on campus.

That policy will remain in effect for UNC-CH until Orange County drops the mask mandate.

UNC-Chapel Hill said the number of COVID-19 cases and positivity rates for the campus community continue to decrease.

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,887 new COVID-19 cases Friday while the percentage of positive tests remained low at just 7.1%.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to fall, with just 1,861 people currently in the hospital statewide.

In total, 22,500 people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19.

11:30 a.m.
UNC Health celebrated administering more than 500,000 vaccine doses in just over a year this week.

"We can count a half-million vaccinations administered but what we can't count is the huge number of lives that were saved, the ICU admissions prevented, and the families kept intact because of these unprecedented efforts," Dr. David Wohl, who has helped lead UNC Health's COVID vaccination campaign, said in a written statement. "Many of us would not be here right now if it was not for the hard work so many put in to make these vaccinations and boosters happen."

UNC Health representatives said the pace of vaccinations has slowed since last year, but the hospital system remains committed to vaccinating as many people as possible.

FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Wake County's indoor mask mandate to slow the spread of COVID-19 will end at 5 p.m. Friday. Several cities and towns within the county, including Raleigh, Garner, Morrisville, Knightdale, Zebulon and Rolesville will also end their mandates.

Many of the county's towns have already lifted the mask mandate, including Cary, Fuquay Varina, Apex, Holly Springs and Wake Forest.

The mandate applies to indoor, public buildings, but individual businesses will be allowed to make their own decisions about requiring masks.

Cumberland County lifted its mask mandates last weekend. Durham County is expected to keep its guidelines in place until at least the end of March.
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