Here’s what Meck County’s new 3-week COVID-19 directive means

CHARLOTTE — The Mecklenburg County Health Department has issued a directive aimed at preventing further spread of COVID-19.

The directive was put into effect for county residents starting Tuesday and will remain in effect for the next three weeks, until Feb. 2.

Officials said COVID-19 cases across the county have continued to grow at an exponential rate, from an average of 100 cases per day in September to 900 per day currently.

>> We have a team of reporters breaking down the directive and what it means for you and your family and will help get answers to your questions on Eyewitness News starting at 5 p.m.

On Wednesday, health leaders announced Mecklenburg County’s youngest death since the pandemic began. Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said a 22-year-old with underlying health problems died from COVID-19 complications.

She called the death “not acceptable.”

“The exponential growth in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and related deaths require immediate action on the part of every member of our community,” Harris said.

Harris said the directive includes the best possible public health recommendations based on the urgent need in the community to get the virus under control.

She said this is not a mandate, but “strong” recommendations. It does not carry the weight of an executive order.

The directive said residents in Mecklenburg County should take several immediate steps including, but not limited to:

  1. Only leave your home for essential activities and remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless an exception as set forth in the Governor’s Executive Order.
  2. Utilize full-virtual options for work, school and any other activity where in-person activity is not required.
  3. Avoid leaving your home if you are over 65 or at high-risk for developing serious illness.
  4. Avoid any non-essential travel.
  5. Avoid gathering with individuals that you do not live with.
  6. WEAR a cloth face covering, WAIT 6 feet apart and avoid close contact, and WASH your hands often or use hand sanitizer -- the three “W’s.”
  7. Quarantine and get tested if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19.
  8. Answer the call and participate in contact tracing to protect against further spread if you receive a call or text from Mecklenburg County Public Health.
  9. Get a flu shot and get the COVID-19 vaccine, when it is available to you.

Click here for other actions residents should take, according to officials.

The directive includes utilizing full-virtual options for work, school and other activities where in-person activities are not required. The directive urged residents to only leave their homes for essential activities only.

Harris encouraged residents to think critically about their exposure over the next several weeks, saying any gathering puts people at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“What we are saying in this directive is that any gathering of individuals in our community right now puts people at risk,” Harris said. “That involves schools, restaurants, even places of work. So as much as we can avoid those gatherings, the quicker we can get the situation in our community into a better place.”

The new directive urges people not to participate in recreational activities where they could come into close contact with other people. That includes sports and indoor fitness classes.

The Mint Museum said it will be closed for the next three weeks, as will the historic Polk House in Pineville.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the way officers enforce the rules under the new directive will stay the same, saying they will aggressively educate the public.

What about schools?

While the directive recommends full-virtual options for school, health officials said it is up to the schools to determine how they will operate. Harris said many schools in the county have had success throughout the pandemic, but people can get the virus outside of school and bring it into the building.

Harris added that they want to see children back in school and they want to see the community prioritizing having children back in schools.

She doesn’t want the directive to expand beyond three weeks.

“If we, as a community, can stick to these recommendations for the next three weeks, we believe it will help us get our numbers back under control,” Harris said.

The directive is causing a lot of confusion and frustration for parents whose kids have been shuffled around constantly since the pandemic began.

“Unfortunately, with the current situation we have in our community, people are being exposed outside of the school system and have the ability to bring this virus into the schools,” Harris said.

She explained that the directive recommends schools stay remote for the next three weeks -- just as CMS was getting ready to bring students back in buildings.

The school board will assemble on Thursday morning for an emergency meeting to consider changes to that plan.

“It is a lot of back and forth,” said CMS parent Jamey Underwood.

She has two first-graders at home and told Channel 9 it has been emotional -- as it has for many families.

“I feel that my children should have been going to school in September,” she said. “If they want to take a pause right now because of the numbers in the community, I work in health care, I completely understand that. My frustration lies in that my children did not go to school when the virus was low.”

Noting the recent Duke University and UNC study that found a very low rate of in-school transmission during late summer and fall, Underwood said she doesn’t feel schools should’ve been included in the directive -- and also raised another concern.

“The bars are still open. The breweries are still open. There’s no mandate that we stay home so people are still going to do those activities and the kids are the ones that are going to hurt,” she said.

“It’s choppy,” said another parent, Fatashia Cousar. “It’s very unorganized. That’s the aggravating part. That’s why, to be honest, it’s hard for me to keep up. One minute it’s this, one minute it’s that.”

Though Cousar is planning on sending her daughter back to school in-person next week, from a safety perspective, she doesn’t disagree with the county directive recommending everyone stay remote another three weeks.

It’s the last minute changes, though, that can be challenging to manage, she said.

“I feel like keep them out as long as you have to for safety reasons but just stay on track,” she told Channel 9. “Don’t say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do it.’ It’s also disappointing for the kids because they’re excited, they’re hyped to go back to school to see their friends.”

Harris said the cases they are seeing in school are quite often related to outside activity, and for that reason she wants the community to prioritize keeping students in school -- which means limiting other activities.

Ultimately, the decision to stay remote beyond Jan. 19 remains in the hands of the CMS board. The board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday at 10:30 a.m.