The Guilford County Board of Commissioners met virtually at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2 with Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann and Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, to hear reports on COVID-19 transmission rates in Guilford County and to discuss whether to lift the mask mandate that’s been in effect since August.
Based on that discussion, all indications are that the mandate will be lifted on Monday, Nov. 15 when the commissioners meet as the Guilford County Board of Health. (The Board of Commissioners became the county’s Board of Health about eight years ago when the commissioners voted the previous Board of Health out of existence.)
The November date for the recension of the ban assumes that the number of COVID-19 cases in the county doesn’t spike upward in that time; however, in the virtual meeting, all parties sounded comfortable with ending the mandate on November 15.
In August, the Board of Commissioners approved the mask mandate that imposed fines for anyone who doesn’t wear a mask while indoors at public places such as stores, restaurants and theaters. The fines apply to individuals who don’t mask up indoors as well as to businesses that do not enforce the mandate.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad – one of three commissioners who voted against the mask mandate last August – has been arguing for weeks that the mandate should end. He said right before the Nov. 2 meeting that he had heard from “30 or 40” people that day who wanted the mandate lifted.
Conrad also said before the virtual meeting that he believed the votes were there to lift the mandate immediately. However, he added, the legal process for rescinding the mask ordinance required a 10-day notice of the public that the recension was being considered.
During the Zoom meeting, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne acknowledged that state law requires a 10-day public notice before the board could make any change to the mask ordinance – including repeal.
The public notice will go out on Wednesday, Nov. 3 and the board will meet to consider repeal on November 15 – the first weekday that it’s eligible to do so.
Commissioner James Upchurch, after asking questions of the medical experts and confirming that Guilford County was in the middle of the pack statewide when it came to COVID0-19 rates, questioned the effectiveness of requiring masks.
“We have the mask mandate but we are still in the middle of everyone else, and I find that interesting,” Upchurch said.
He also said that counties similar in size to Guilford County that don’t have a mandate are seeing “numbers like ours.”
Vann informed the board that, for the past three weeks, the county’s positivity rate has been under 5 percent. In the most recent week with complete statistics available, the county had a 4.3 percent positivity rate. Three consecutive weeks under the 5 percent mark was one of the criteria the board had set in August as a goal for lifting the mandate.
“This was one of the metrics the board wanted to use,” Vann said. “This particular one has been met and here we are talking about the mask mandate.”
Dr. Ohl suggested that keeping the mandate in place for a couple of weeks should allow some newly qualifying kids to be vaccinated and it would allow the case numbers to come down further before lifting the mandate.
Ohl also said that several North Carolina counties planned to rescind mask mandates in mid-November, so, he added, if Guilford County did so, the decision would be in line with other cities and counties in the state where leaders were planning on doing the same right before the Thanksgiving holidays.
“We’re all kind of knocking on the same doors right now,” Ohl told the board.
He cautioned that the holiday party season that follows could lead to an increase in cases.
Vann also said that Guilford County seemed to be on a path that would allow her to go along with lifting the mandate later this month.
“It looks like these metrics are going to get there in the next couple of weeks,” Vann said of some COVID-19 targets she thought should be hit before ending the mandate.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said he called the Nov. 2 meeting to get advice from experts because he wanted the board’s decisions to be “based on facts, not fear and politics.”