This story has been updated to include information on the University's mask guidelines and information from an Orange County press release sent Wednesday.
Orange County will lift its indoor mask mandate on March 7 at 5 p.m, Board of County Commissioners Chairperson Renee Price announced in a board meeting Tuesday.
The decision follows Gov. Roy Cooper's Feb. 17 press conference, when he encouraged schools and local governments to end mask mandates. The day after Cooper's announcement, Orange County leaders had announced they would keep the county's indoor mask mandate in place.
In Tuesday's meeting, Price said Orange County's key COVID-19 metrics were below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's standards to lift the mask mandate.
“I do believe in this case it should be based on data and have rather clear criteria,” commissioner Amy Fowler said. “This was a decision by the chair and mayors with input from the health department.”
Price said masks will still be required in certain indoor locations, such as health care facilities.
Orange County has seen a 28 percent decrease in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, according to data from The New York Times COVID-19 data tracker. The county's positivity for the past two weeks is six percent, according to the tracker.
As of Tuesday, UNC has not made any official announcements regarding changing mask protocols. But the University said in a campus-wide email last Friday that if the county lifts its mask mandate, the University would follow suit. This came after an announcement from the UNC System that its institutions should make wearing masks indoors optional also by March 7.
On Wednesday, the county said in a press release that lifting its indoor mask mandate is contingent on COVID-19 metrics.
The CDC currently lists Orange County as a high-risk area, but the county meets some of the outlined community levels metrics.
Orange County has had 150.87 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days — less than the CDC’s bar of 200 cases. At 12.86 percent, Orange County meets CDC metric of having fewer than 15 percent staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
As of Wednesday, Orange County has a higher number of COVID-19 hospital admissions than recommended by the CDC. The CDC recommends that the new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people in the last seven days should be less than 20, but the county is at 28.29.
If these metrics and case counts trend upwards, Orange County said it can again require masks in public, indoor spaces. Businesses reserve the right to require customers to wear a mask in their establishments.
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