News: Quick Takes

Cary drops masking rules, even as Cooper maintains two-year-old emergency order

Cary, NC town hall sign in downtown Cary
Cary, NC town hall sign in downtown Cary

COVID-19 numbers are down across the board, yet the governor and health secretary continue to encourage people to wear masks and to follow a two-year-old emergency order.

But one Wake County city appears to be using common sense as its guide. Cary, the seventh-largest city in the state, voted Thursday, Oct. 29, to rescind its mask mandate, in place since Aug. 18. The rule expires at noon Friday, Oct. 29.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been so impressed and humbled by Cary citizens’ willingness to take care of their neighbors,” Mayor Harold Weinbrech said in a statement. “When we reintroduced the mask requirement in response to the Delta variant case surge, I knew it was a lot to ask, but I had no doubt people here would continue to do the right thing, and they have.

Weinbrech said rescinding the order is the next step in getting through the pandemic, and the move gives people the flexibility to make healthy choices for themselves and those closest to them as heading into the holiday season.”

“We continue to look to the science as we make these calls,” he said, “and the bottom line is that the measures we’ve all taken together have had a positive outcome for our community and the health systems that serve it.

The mask mandate in Wake County will likely continue, WRAL is reporting, and Raleigh and Garner are already planning to keep mask mandates in place.

The rate of people testing positive for the virus is 4.5%, the state health department reported Monday, below the magical 5% threshold set by state officials to indicate the spread of the virus has slowed. North Carolina recorded fewer than 2,500 cases Wednesday, Oct. 28, with 71% of the adult population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. Some 67% are fully vaccinated.

News outlets, online, broadcast, and print continue to report the numbers from a template lacking context or nuance.

In March of last year, Gov. Roy Cooper enacted an executive order putting North Carolina under a now-perpetual state of emergency. 

Preventing hospitals and health care providers from becoming overwhelmed was the original rationale for the suppressions. But, according to state numbers Wednesday, 1,364 people are hospitalized with the virus. On Sept. 26, more than twice that number were hospitalized. The state reported 391 people in intensive care Wednesday. On Sept. 26, that number was near 900. The state has about 22,000 total hospital beds, although those numbers vary depending on the source and categorization.

As of Oct. 10, 75% of the people who died because of “COVID-related” causes were 65 or older; more than half were 75 or older. 

But the Cooper administration continues to change criteria in dealing with the virus.

In a news conference Wednesday, state health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen unveiled yet another map, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing all but two counties — Hyde and Cherokee in opposite corners of the state — with high or substantial levels of transmission. She recommended people continue wearing masks indoors and that students wear them in schools for in-person learning.

Cooper, a Democrat, issued his first executive order of the pandemic in March 2020, at the time implementing an interminable state of emergency, a move typically reserved for hurricanes and other natural disasters. 

House Bill 264, the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, would rein in a governor’s powers, requiring, for instance, that he or she get Council of State concurrence for an emergency declaration lasting more than seven days. It would require legislative approval to go beyond 45 days.

But Cooper on Wednesday said statewide COVID mandates don’t exist statewide, and he won’t budge on lifting the nearly two-year-old order. The ongoing edict allows health care agencies access to emergency money from state and federal pools they otherwise would not get, he said.