Face coverings remain optional, safety measures strongly encouraged by HHS Board

Posted January 18, 2022 at 12:08 pm     Category: News ReleasePublic Health

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – Face coverings will remain optional in New Hanover County, after the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board reviewed and discussed COVID-19 metrics at today’s meeting and then had a five-to-five split vote that resulted in no action being taken on the health rule. The meeting can be viewed here.

Board members did advocate for additional education to the community focused on the importance of layered protections, including mask wearing, as well as additional resources for testing in the community, and encouraged all residents to seek out COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.

“Our COVID metrics in New Hanover County remain high and the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, so we strongly encourage people to wear a mask, and use the other tools we have available to us that are proven to help, and that includes vaccinations with boosters and getting tested if you have been exposed or are experiencing possible symptoms,” said Health and Human Service Board Chair Dr. LeShonda Wallace. “While there may not be a rule in place, we hope the community will do all they can to be proactive and help prevent the spread and impacts of COVID-19. Health and Human Services are focused on protecting the public’s overall health and wellness and we will continue to do that in our outreach to the community and in historically marginalized populations. We hope that reminders and fact-based information will continue to drive home how we can work together to end this pandemic.”

During its meeting, the board reviewed and discussed numerous COVID-19 data points as well as the overall impact on the community, including:

  • New Hanover County’s test positivity rate is 31.7 percent, with 5,208 new cases over the last 14 days for an average of 372 new cases per day.
  • Currently, there are 93 people hospitalized with COVID and 10 of these are in the ICU, according to information provided by NHRMC.
  • There have been 318 total deaths since the start of the pandemic in New Hanover County, and 15 of these deaths have been reported since the start of January 2022.
  • Health and Human Services is currently monitoring 20 outbreaks and one cluster in the community.
  • The percent of the population vaccinated with two doses (of Pfizer or Moderna) or one dose of J&J is 62 percent, and those who have received a booster and are considered “up-to-date” is around 30 percent of residents.

The board also discussed the community’s screening capacity including availability of tests, which Health and Human Services is expecting more shipments of and will distribute to local community providers and hold community testing sites when able.

Following the public hearing and board discussion at today’s meeting, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr., who serves as the Commissioner representative on the HHS Board, made a motion not to reinstate the health rule. It was seconded and voted on by the board members. The vote was split five to five, and therefore no action was taken on the rule at this time.

“From the public comments we received prior to the meeting, those we heard today and even based on our vote as the Health and Human Services Board, it is clear that people have a wide array of opinions and thoughts on how to best combat COVID-19,” County Commissioner and HHS Board member Jonathan Barfield said. “The one thing we should all agree on is being kind and respectful to our neighbors and others we come into contact with, no matter their stance on masking, vaccinations or other topics around this pandemic. Common courtesy and civility can go a long way to easing the tensions we are all feeling as we continue to navigate this together.”

The most recent information from the CDC regarding types of masks can be viewed here and CDC recommendations around mask wearing can be viewed here.

As always, the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Vaccination Clinics at 1650 Greenfield Street and Independence Mall are offering initial vaccines and boosters to anyone who is eligible. Appointments are encouraged and can be scheduled by visiting TakeMyShot.NC.gov. Walk-ups are accepted at both clinic locations and vaccines will be administered based on availability.

To keep informed on the latest COVID information, including vaccine guidelines, community metrics and more, sign up for email updates from New Hanover County by clicking here.

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