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Mecklenburg County to expire health directive while urging masks and social distancing

Mecklenburg County is urging everyone to social distance and wear masks as both the county and state plan to slowly relax restrictions beginning Friday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris announced Thursday the expiration of the county's COVID-19 health directive effective Friday at 5 p.m., the same time North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's statewide restrictions are scheduled to loosen amid decreasing coronavirus data trends.

Harris' directive will expire in accordance with Cooper's new executive order. That updated state order eases some restrictions statewide -- including the elimination of the nightly curfew and the increase on customer capacity of bars and restaurants -- while mandating the mask mandate and social distancing requirements.

Harris is stressing the need to continue prevention and safety precautions in order to keep data trending in the right direction.

"We want this to work," Harris said during a briefing Thursday. "We need our community to continue to do the right thing."

Harris urged the need for businesses and individuals to continue practicing safe habits.

"This is an easing into as opposed to a full open," Harris said.

"We're seeing numbers dropping," Harris said. "I'm pleased we're at a point where we can open things up. I hope we can take this seriously. I hope we can slowly open things up."

Harris said she is concerned the coronavirus variants, or poor safety practices by the community, could again raise data.

"We need everyone's participation to make sure this goes smoothly this weekend," Harris urged. "If you go to a business and see a line out the door, or it's crowded, maybe come back at another time."

On Monday, March 1, Mecklenburg County services will resume at the level prior to the health directive. This includes the resumption of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation outdoor services. All outdoor Park and Recreation facilities will be accessible for use under normal hours including lighted facilities.  

WCNC Charlotte's Vanessa Ruffes asked Harris if lights alongside tennis courts and park facilities would be turned on after dark. Harris was not immediately sure.

As reported on February 10, a petition to turn tennis lights on at public parks in Mecklenburg County had reached over a thousands signatures in a week. As WCNC Charlotte reported at the time, tennis players did not understand why tennis could be played in the daytime but not at night. 

Terri Sanz, the owner of the local tennis league Terri’s Tennis Ladder feels the directive has done players more harm than good.

“There were a lot of people congregating around tennis courts during the day only because the night time was not available,” Sanz said.

RELATED: Thousands of educators already vaccinated in North Carolina as state moves to Group 3

Data released Wednesday showed 240,000 more North Carolinians became eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The state officially moved into Group 3 of vaccine prioritizations, starting with childcare workers and school staff in a pre-k to 12 setting.

In Mecklenburg County, health officials said there’s been an overwhelming response from educators. Now that CMS is back in the classroom a lot of people are desperate for that extra layer of protection. Out of the 850 appointments held at the Bojangles Coliseum and Medic Headquarters, about 755 of them were for educators or school staff members.

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“Thanks to our community’s commitment to following the Directive and the prevention measures necessary to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19, our metrics have started to improve,” Harris said ahead of the briefing. “While the number of cases has decreased and vaccine has become available, that does not mean we are out of the woods yet. Everyone must continue to practice the 3 Ws and avoid gatherings with individuals they do not live with to continue the improvement in metrics and keep our community healthy and safe.”

Mecklenburg County announced Thursday that all county parks and recreation areas will resume normal operating hours beginning March 1. This includes lighted facilities such as tennis parks and basketball courts. 

RELATED: US has 'lowest flu season' on record during COVID pandemic

RELATED: North Carolina to allow more people at bars, restaurants, sporting events

Effective at 5 p.m. Friday, many businesses can expand to 50% capacity so long as social distancing, mask mandate, and other safety precautions are still imposed. These businesses include:

  • Restaurants
  • Breweries
  • Wineries
  • Retail stores
  • Gyms
  • Museums
  • Aquariums
  • Barbershops and other personal care facilities
  • Pools