RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Though some communities in other states are reinstating indoor mask mandates, a spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Monday that he “is not yet planning any additional statewide measures at this time.”
The delta variant has led to a rise in COVID-19 cases, primarily among unvaccinated people. They account for more than 94 percent of new cases, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert at Duke University’s School of Medicine, said with the worsening COVID-19 metrics in North Carolina, he thinks the state is moving closer to the point of needing masking requirements again.
“We’re close to that point, frankly. And if individual counties, or heck even if the statewide mandate were to be put back in place, I’ll be honest I’d be supportive of it,” he said. “It’s so overwhelmingly an issue of the unvaccinated. If that drives the rest of the state to come back into a position of needing to wear masks, God that is a disappointing situation because that is preventable.”
Savannah, Georgia, became the latest city Monday to announce a reinstated indoor mask requirement, even for those who are fully vaccinated. St. Louis city and county began requiring masks at indoor public places Monday following an announcement last week.
Holly Park Pharmacy in Raleigh requires all customers to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Some pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Walgreens, do not require fully vaccinated customers to wear masks.
“The spread is very rampant, essentially. So, it makes more sense to wear a mask now just to make sure that everyone is protected,” said Sameer Pai Kane, a pharmacist at Holly Park Pharmacy. “We have to do it until everyone is safe.”
Cooper announced new guidelines for schools last week. While it calls for all unvaccinated students and adults to wear masks, including all students in K-8th grade regardless of vaccination status, the decision will ultimately be up to local school boards.
“Although the Governor is not yet planning any additional statewide measures at this time, he strongly encourages schools and businesses to enact important safety precautions that can save lives and he continues to encourage unvaccinated people to wear masks until they get their shots,” said Mary Scott Winstead, spokesperson for Cooper.
Wolfe said the number of people in the hospital at Duke facilities at any given time due to COVID-19 has more than doubled in recent weeks, though it remains well below the peak the state experienced in the early winter.
“So, I think if you look forward two or four weeks, it’s probably going to be a little bit worse than where we are now,” he said.
He noted that some regions are more impacted by the rise in cases than others, given the varying vaccination rates across the state. He said that’s a key factor if some communities decide to bring back masking requirements.
“Sometimes without overarching directives, counties that have struggled will continue to struggle,” he said. “That’s always the problem of leaving it up to individual jurisdictions is it tends to be the jurisdictions that have been well-vaccinated are the ones who are more cautious from the outset and more likely to want to put masks back into schools and back into buildings.”