Latest data pauses anticipated lift of mask mandate in Meck County

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County’s COVID-19 positivity rate has again climbed above 5%, a setback for those hoping to go mask-free indoors.

The county will only lift its mask mandate when the percent positive rate stays below 5% for seven days in a row. The mandate would automatically lift once that goal is met.

On Monday, the county released the numbers it has been using to track COVID-19 cases. The metric was at 5.8% and had been climbing for about a week.

There has been some confusion surrounding when Mecklenburg County could finally withdraw the mask mandate.

The mandate, requiring masks indoors, was reinstated in August with no expiration date. In order for the mandate to end, the COVID-19 percent positive rate must be below 5% for seven consecutive days. The requirement comes after a change by county commissioners that reduced the time from 30 days.

“It feels confusing, and I think it just creates more separations because it’s not a comfortable or easy or fun thing to talk about,” said Doug Sweeney, who is tired of the mask mandate.

The rule also doesn’t go into effect for 10 days after it was published, or Nov. 17.

On Saturday, the percent positive was just above 5%, breaking a streak of four straight days, according to the CDC. But according to the county’s metrics, that number was at 5.8% Saturday, after steadily rising for days.

“We try and follow it as best we can, especially since we’re a restaurant with pretty high volume here, and we do our best to stay on top of the numbers,” said Collin Kellmeyer, manager at the Goodyear House on NoDa.

Kellmeyer said he welcomes the end of the mandate whenever it comes, but said he’s not sure that everybody is going to take advantage of it.

“Personally, I believe a lot of people are still going to wear them, just because it has become a habit of nature now,” he said.

Part of the confusion over the issue is whose numbers the county is using. Channel 9 reached out to Mecklenburg County about why their numbers are different from the CDC.

County officials said the reason their number differs from the CDC is because the CDC numbers lag behind, and they handle the dates of testing slightly differently.

However, the health director said the trends closely align. On Monday, the CDC showed the county at 5.11%, in contrast to the county’s 5.8%.

The county now plans to update its numbers daily, starting Monday, so the community can have a more accurate measure of when the mask mandate might be removed.

Don Koster runs The Evening Muse in NoDa. The venue requires a vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests to attend a concert, and has a strict mask policy, which some customers don’t want to follow.

“80% of the people are very happy that we are being careful,” Koster said. “It’s a very intimate space as you can see. And 20% are not nice about it.”

Koster said the controversy over the county’s numbers was a roller coaster. Channel 9 anchor John Paul received a significant amount of feedback on social media about it, with people saying the percent positivity rate is arbitrary.

The NCDHHS said, “No one metric is perfect, that’s why we’ve used 4 key metrics.”

The four metrics include people going to the emergency room, being hospitalized, and new daily cases.

The NCDHHS went on to say they will “continue to evaluate the usefulness of this metric” as more at-home testing happens.

If the mandate is dropped, the airport and schools won’t be impacted; masks would still be required. Businesses would still have the right to require them too, which is something the Evening Muse is not ruling out.

“We’re even talking about if the mandate is lifted we may still, the employees, will still stay masked until it really feels good,” Koster said.

The county said it will update the number every day.

(WATCH BELOW: Meck County’s COVID positivity rate dips below 5%: What that means for masks)