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Mecklenburg health director: Now is the time to pivot to long-term COVID response

Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington said now is the time to focus on impacts of COVID-19, not case counts, to determine public health directives.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington says now is a "good time" to begin the next phase of the pandemic, beginning with rescinding the county's indoor mask mandate

"Now is a good time for us to begin this transition to what I have phrased as 'Covid response 2.0,'" Washington told Ben Thompson during an exclusive interview scheduled to air Sunday on WCNC Charlotte's Flashpoint. 

RELATED: Cooper encourages schools to end mask mandates

Washington said health officials will focus their response on those most vulnerable to a severe illness from COVID-19. But just as we saw with the delta variant, there's no guarantee county officials won't implement another mask requirement. 

"I'm certain it will have some surges in the future, but I don't know what they'll look like because I don't know what mutations and what the consequences of those mutations will be," Washington said. "So I can't say definitively that there won't be a time where we as a community may need to implement measures, but I do believe that we have to transition our drive, our decision making about those measures."

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Washington said health leaders should look at actual impacts of the virus, not simply the number of cases when making a determination about masks or any other safety measures. He also said the capacity of the health care and emergency management systems will be the focal points of triggering new responses, including mask mandates. 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday that he's recommending local governments and school districts to end mask mandates. Cooper cited decreasing COVID-19 metrics and widespread vaccine availability statewide for ending the extra measure. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education will meet Tuesday, Feb. 22 to discuss the district's mask mandate. The board could vote on ending the mandate during that meeting.

During this week's Board of County Commissioners meeting, Washington said we'd have to adjust to living with the virus. He clarified that comment, saying there's a more nuanced way to deal with COVID-19 as it mutates going forward. 

RELATED: Mecklenburg County leaders vote to rescind indoor mask mandate effective Feb. 26

"Our world has been dealing with COVID for two years and we've been in what I would describe as emergency response mode," he said. "I believe this is a good pivot for us to begin to really look at what managing COVID on a long-term, sustainable basis looks like."

Dr. Raynard Washington's full interview will air on WCNC Charlotte's Flashpoint on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. For the latest political news from the Carolinas, follow Flashpoint's Ben Thompson on Twitter.

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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