In a surprise move that stunned even some county commissioners, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners – acting as the Guilford County Board of Public Health – voted at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb.17 to do away with the county’s mask mandate that had been in effect since early January.

The motion came as a big relief to many people in the county who had been fighting hard against the rule that required any person indoors at a public venue like a store or restaurant to wear a mask. At the start of the board meeting, several speakers from the floor spoke on the need to get rid of the mandate, and, later in the meeting, Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann stated that COVID-19 conditions in the county, though still threatening, were improving.

The thing that probably played the biggest role in the sudden change is the fact that earlier in the day, Democratic NC Governor Roy Cooper encouraged local governments to drop the mandate. It had been the six Democrats on the nine-member Board of Commissioners who favored the mandate, but on February 17 the vote to rescind the mandate was unanimous.

Commissioner Carly Cooke said before the vote that she didn’t think these decisions were “black and white.” 

“I recognize the burden on businesses and small children,” she said of the mandate.

Cooke added that, when she voted to approve the mask mandate earlier this year, she stated that she didn’t want it to last one day longer than necessary.

Commissioner Alan Perdue said each new variant of the virus was different, so no single strategy should be used to fight it. 

Perdue, who served for years as the county’s Emergency Services director, said that when that department required people to wear N-95 masks, the masks had to be fitted to the individuals and those users had to be trained and had to get medical clearance. 

“It is a respirator, not a mask,” Perdue said.

Perdue said that’s why he’s been alarmed that medical professionals are now telling everyone to run out and get an N-95 mask and put it on.

Chairman of the Guilford County of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston pointed out that at no time had Guilford County commissioners instructed people to specifically wear N-95 masks.

Alston has been one of the strongest proponents of the mask mandate.

“I don’t like wearing these either,” Alston said of masks. “I hate them.  But I myself think that this mask protects me, and that’s good enough for me.  And I think this mask protects others, and that’s good enough for me.”