MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday, Nov. 3, to make changes to the county's mask mandate, including the COVID-19 metrics needed to make masks optional in public spaces.
Wednesday's amendment will end Mecklenburg County's mask requirement if the COVID-19 positivity rate is below 5% for seven consecutive days. The mandate would automatically end after reaching that threshold. The rule will be adopted and take effect no less than 10 days after notice of publication.
Under the previous rule, Mecklenburg County's mask mandate would remain in place until the county had 30 consecutive days with below 5% positivity.
Even if the mandate ends, county residents will still be encouraged to use face coverings in all indoor settings, especially if they are unvaccinated. Schools, whether they are public, private or parochial, will be required to follow guidance on face coverings from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The public health rule goes into effect Nov. 17.
Wooden Robot Brewery has signs posted outside saying, "Face mask required on premise for service."
“We’ve been enforcing it as best that we can without causing any issues," Tim Mueller, general manager for Wooden Robot Brewery, said. "A big thing for us is when there’s interaction in the inside, masks are required from customers. Staff are still required to wear masks at all times.”
The small business wants to keep its staff healthy and stay open, which is why Mueller said it has been enforcing the local indoor mask mandate.
“We get a little bit of pushback from a handful of people, but for the most part, they understand once we explain it to them that we’re just trying to keep everyone as healthy as possible and keep our business open," Mueller said.
Mueller added that the brewery saw a small drop in business when the mask mandate took effect and hopes things pick up if changes are eventually made to the face-covering rules.
“Hopefully it means that we’ll get busier," Mueller said. "People will feel more comfortable being out.”
At PlantHouse in Dilworth, people can peruse the plants while enjoying a drink, but masks are part of the experience for now.
“We serve beer and wine, so we have signs that say please put your mask up between sips, and everyone seems to be pretty good about," Bailey Ryan, chief executive officer for PlantHouse, said.
The business plans to follow whatever rules are in place regarding face coverings, Ryan said.
“Above all else," Ryan said, "our main concern is our employee safety and then the customer experience.”
At Manhattan Bagel at the Arboretum Shopping Center, safety has been the top priority since the pandemic began.
“We were one of the first restaurants that all of their employees were wearing the masks," Harriet Kingsbury, owner of Manhattan Bagel at the Arboretum Shopping Center, said. "We had the little shields on before everybody else because we were concerned.”
Even when North Carolina got rid of its mask mandate, Kingsbury said staff members continued wearing masks.
“Our commitment was still there," Kingsbury said. "We still wanted to show that we care, and we wanted to be part of helping.”
The bagel shop has been following the rules of the local mask mandate since August. Kingsbury even put a big sign on the front door to make customers aware before they enter.
“That was hard cause everybody was used to not wearing the masks so that’s the reason I put my big sign," Kingsbury said. "I just wanted to make sure they understood we do enforce it.”
The owner said asking customers to wear a mask has nothing to do with politics — only their commitment to keeping everyone healthy.
“We’re short-staffed like everybody, so if one person gets sick, I can’t run the store," she said. "I have to close.”
Even with the rules changing for the mask mandate, Kingsbury said her staff will most likely continue to keep wearing them for a little while longer.
Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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