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Mecklenburg County health leaders encouraged by CDC guidance, urge vaccinations

Health director Gibbie Harris' message was clear: if you want to ditch the mask, get the shot
Credit: Adobe Stock Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County public health leaders say new national guidance on wearing masks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is good news that the fight against the virus is taking another good turn.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department held its weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday afternoon, where health director Gibbie Harris provided more details on local efforts to boost vaccination rates after weeks of plateauing numbers on that front. The latest data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a declining percent positive rate statewide, now at 5.1%, but the percentage of adults partially vaccinated is at 51%, still inching towards a goal of getting two-thirds of all adults partially vaccinated. 45.5% of all adults in North Carolina are, however, fully vaccinated.

These numbers come as the CDC eased guidance Thursday on indoor mask usage for fully vaccinated people. The CDC says people who are completely protected against the virus can drop their masks in most indoor settings like offices and schools, but still says masks are recommended in tighter quarters like buses and planes. Additionally, masks are no longer recommended for fully vaccinated people outdoors, even in crowds.

At the local level, health director Gibbie Harris says 42% of all adults are partially vaccinated and almost 36% fully vaccinated. She took time to acknowledge that the metrics were improving and that outreach to underserved communities remained strong. She also discussed logistical issues with getting state-level data but pivoted back to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for administration to kids aged 12-15 years old. Harris said there was great interest in clinics to get kids vaccinated.

Harris went on to discuss the updated CDC guidance. Harris says this was great news and said studies affirm the effectiveness against the virus. She expressed support but noted North Carolina is still under certain executive orders. Harris predicted Gov. Roy Cooper would quickly pivot to drop the order, as he's largely followed federal guidance. However, Harris hammered home that only those who are fully vaccinated can drop masks and called for citizens who weren't vaccinated and who wanted to ditch the mask to get vaccinated.

When WCNC Charlotte's Hunter Sáenz asked about people possibly lying about their vaccination status, Harris said health leaders like her and medical director Dr. Meg Sullivan are trying to appeal to good faith, trying to encourage people who aren't vaccinated yet to keep wearing masks. She also noted it's unlikely Mecklenburg County will implement so-called "vaccine passports", but may see some parts of public venues like baseball fields cordoned off for those who do have some kind of evidence of being vaccinated against the passports.

Regarding guidelines for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Harris noted a conversation with school leaders has not happened yet since the announcement really dropped without warning on Thursday. However, she promised those conversations will happen. Dr. Sullivan said health leaders have been dependent on schools' knowledge of their communities for where vaccine efforts for kids should go to ensure clinic locations are finalized.

Dr. Sullivan also noted the CDC was also looking at updating guidelines for summer camps, and the county was reviewing other updates they may need to make. Additionally, Sullivan highlighted that kids under 12 years old -- not yet eligible for the Pfizer shot -- still need to be safe. She also highlighted upcoming vaccine clinics as opportunities for people to get the shot and be a step closer to ditching masks.

WCNC Charlotte reached out to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper to see if the new CDC guidance changed anything at the state level. In a response emailed back to us, press secretary Dory MacMillan said the state will review before making more decisions:

The CDC announcement today on masks shows the important benefits of vaccinations. North Carolina two weeks ago removed the outdoor mask mandate, but the indoor mask mandate remains in effect while state health officials review the specific CDC recommendations.

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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