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Orange County follows Cooper's decision to lift mask mandate, other restrictions

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks during a Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

In accordance with the COVID-19 guidelines set by Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger announced later that day that Orange County would adhere to statewide lifted restrictions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Thursday that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most indoor settings. Following this announcement, Cooper lifted the statewide mask mandate and limits on gathering, distancing and capacities.

Hemminger said she echoed Cooper’s announcement in order to minimize confusion for residents hearing policy changes from state and county legislators. She also said she felt Orange County was ready for this removal of restrictions.

“We have, in the past, been more stringent, but because we have a higher vaccination rate than most of the other counties anyway, we felt that we needed to go ahead and comply,” Hemminger said.

As of Tuesday, 62.21 percent of residents living in Orange County had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 57.7 percent had been fully vaccinated.

The mayor said, however, that she still encourages residents to wear masks if they feel uncertain about the changes and to be respectful of businesses that continue to require face coverings. 

Renee Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, worked with Hemminger along with the mayors of Carrboro and Hillsborough to make the decision to follow Cooper’s changes.

She said Orange County businesses and their supporters contacted them to express their need to reopen full operations to generate revenue again, which contributed to the decision to lift restrictions.

They were confident in this choice due to high vaccination rates in the county, Price said, but a high percentage of residents that have not yet received the vaccine or are skeptical of it presents concerns.

“It’s an honor system,” Price said. “Hopefully people will use caution and, if they’re in a tight space, continue to wear a mask.”

Erica Berry, a music teacher in Chapel Hill, said she was excited to be able to see more of her students and to take off her mask while singing and dancing in class.

She said she is fully vaccinated, but one of her daughters has only received her first dose, so they are still cautious about where they remove their masks.

“I won’t so quickly take it off in all locations,” Berry said. “In Chapel Hill, I will still be wearing my mask inside and in crowded areas.”

Berry said that after Hemminger announced these changes, she created three different options for her summer music classes: outdoors, without masks if vaccinated; indoors, with masks regardless; and via Zoom.

She said she feels safe to proceed with all three options because she and her co-teacher have been vaccinated, and because of precautions like smaller class sizes and requiring unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask.

“If you’ve been vaccinated, then you should feel comfortable, but if you're not ready, then we should respect that, too,” Hemminger said.

@DTHCityState | 

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