Orange County to drop mask mandate March 7

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

8 p.m.
Orange County Chair Renee Price announced at the Board of County Commissioners business meeting that the county's key COVID-19 metrics are all below CDC standards and the countywide mask mandate will be lifted as of March 7.

4:59 p.m.
Masks will become optional in most state agencies and facilities beginning March 7, Gov. Roy Cooper's office said.

"COVID-19 levels are declining rapidly, and we have vaccinations, boosters, and effective treatments that are making this step possible," Cooper said. "This virus is still causing serious illness and death mostly in unvaccinated people and the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and boosted."

Under Executive Order No. 253, the Office of State Human Resources has updated policies for face coverings for state government agencies that are part of the Governor's cabinet.

Agency heads may require face coverings in settings that they determine to be high-risk including long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and health care facilities, and federal regulations continue to require masks in certain facilities.

Requirements remain in place that employees who are not vaccinated must be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.

Beginning March 7, employees may use at-home rapid antigen tests to meet the testing requirements in addition to PCR tests.

2 p.m.
For the second day in a row, NCDHHS reports fewer than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The daily percent positive rate also remained below 7%, which is nearly half of what the rate was at last week.

The metrics are looking more like they were in November 2021, before holiday gatherings and the spread of the omicron variant.

1:55 p.m.
Edgecombe County Schools is making COVID-19 face coverings optional starting Wednesday.

On all school grounds, students and staff can choose whether or not to mask up. They will still be required to get on buses or other school transportation vehicles.

9:50 a.m.
Masks are now optional for students and staff riding buses operated by Cumberland County Schools.

The school district cited new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for why the masks would no longer be required.

CSC said it will continue to promote physical distancing, handwashing, voluntary masking and enhanced cleaning policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Facemasks are now optional for Wake County Public School System students and staff during extra-curricular activities and bus trips related to those activities.

Masks are still required in classrooms and on regular bus routes until Monday.

Edgecombe County Schools called a special meeting Tuesday to discuss classroom masking requirements.

Durham County plans to drop its mask mandate Monday. Durham Public Schools has not yet announced any plans to eliminate its mask requirements.

MONDAY
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.
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