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Friday December 9th

Orange County leaders will keep mask mandate in place

<p>Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks Aug. 26, 2021, while masked during a press conference at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro.</p>
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Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks Aug. 26, 2021, while masked during a press conference at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro.

Orange County leaders have decided to keep the county's indoor mask mandate in place, following a Friday meeting with Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart. 

The decision comes after Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged schools and local governments to end mask mandates at a press conference yesterday afternoon. He recommended ending mandates starting March 7.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils, Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver and Orange County Board of Commissioners Chair Renee Price took part in Friday's meeting with Stewart. 

"We have a community responsibility to minimize strain on UNC Hospital because it serves as a healthcare hub not only for Orange County but for our entire region,” Price said in a press release. “We want to slow the spread as much as possible to protect children under 5 and adults who are unable to take a COVID-19 vaccine."

Orange County is currently at a 13 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 cases. Last week, the county reported over 400 positive cases, according to federal data, according to state and local health data. 

Hemminger said the county is aiming for a positivity rate below 5 percent, as well as for UNC Hospitals to have fewer than 90 percent of hospital beds occupied, before reconsidering the mandate.

“We still aren’t at the targets we held to of less than 5 percent positivity and the hospital beds at UNC being available,” Hemminger said Thursday following Cooper's announcement. 

Throughout Orange County, 75 percent of the population is vaccinated with two doses or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' COVID-19 dashboard. 

UNC Systems have yet to make a decision on updates to the campus-wide mask mandate.

"We will continue to consult with our infectious disease experts and local health officials and will communicate any changes to our community standards directly to campus," UNC Media Relations wrote in an email Friday afternoon. 

Staff writer Ian Walniuk contributed to this story. 

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