NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – The New Hanover County Health and Human Services (HHS) Board voted unanimously today to move forward with a proposed health rule to mandate face coverings in all indoor public places within New Hanover County, to include offices and workplaces, business establishments, public transportation facilities and vehicles, and any place the public is invited or allowed to assemble. The county-wide mandate would apply to anyone 2 years and older, regardless of vaccination status.
This mandate will be implemented through a health rule, which requires 10 days’ public notice and opportunity for public comment. In the interim, while the statutory guidelines are followed for the health rule, the HHS Board requested Public Health Director David Howard issue an Order of Abatement, which can be viewed here, that is in line with the proposed health rule and requires all residents and visitors to comply with an indoor mask mandate effective Friday, August 20 at 5 p.m.
“The recent devastating impacts of COVID-19 cannot be diminished and the strain on our healthcare system and staff is not sustainable, so our community must take it more seriously than ever,” said HHS Board Chair Dr. LeShonda Wallace. “If we could issue this indoor mask mandate immediately, we would. But, as the Health and Human Services Board, we are required to follow statute and must abide by the 10-day notice period for health rules. That’s why we recommended Public Health Director David Howard to take the more immediate action to issue a face covering mandate through an abatement order. Masks have been proven as an effective tool to decrease transmission, especially when coupled with vaccinations, physically distancing from others, avoiding large indoor crowds and practicing good hand hygiene. And even if you are outdoors at a crowded venue, we encourage you to wear a mask.”
The proposed health rule can be viewed at Health.NHCgov.com, and public comments on the rule can be submitted here, beginning now through Monday, August 30 at noon. The HHS Board will then reconvene for a special meeting, with a date and time to be announced, to review all comments, conduct a public hearing, and vote on the rule’s adoption.
“I appreciate the leadership of the HHS Board in taking this action, and as a Health and Human Services Board member and County Commissioner, I fully support a county-wide mask mandate,” said Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. “The delta variant is proving to be incredibly contagious and our community needs to do all we can to combat its spread, so moving forward proactively to mandate masks is the right course of action for the health of our residents. Vaccinations, coupled with mask wearing, distancing from others and washing hands frequently are our best combined defense against this virus to prevent hospitalizations and save lives.”
Several key COVID metrics have increased drastically in recent weeks with the surge of the Delta variant. In the month of June, there were a total of 217 COVID-19 cases reported in New Hanover County; in the month of July, that number rose to 705 cases; and in the first 17 days of August, there have been 1,152 new cases reported in the county. And the county’s 14-day percent positivity rate is 10.1 percent, which is an increase from 1.5 percent in mid-July.
“We are on track to have almost ten times the number of cases this month as we did just two months ago,” said Public Health Director David Howard. “And even more troubling is the number of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. The cases are overwhelming our health system – with our hospital surpassing record numbers of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began, their staff once again is stretched to their limits. The rapid rise in hospitalizations must be slowed. Five more of our neighbors died last week and all were unvaccinated individuals. Please stop and think about that, and do what’s necessary to prevent this virus from impacting you, your family, and our community – this means masking now, distancing now, and vaccinating now.”
The HHS Board’s proposed rule is directly in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ guidance urging all people, including those fully vaccinated, to wear face coverings in indoor spaces when they are around people they do not live with, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The indoor mask mandate will not apply to the following individuals:
The county is currently working through the administrative process for the abatement order and will share any additional details with the community in the coming days. Signs for business to hang about face coverings, Frequently Asked Questions, and more will be posted at Health.NHCgov.com as those details are finalized.
The proposed health rule can be viewed online and copies are available at the Health and Human Services building, located at 1650 Greenfield Street in Wilmington, NC.