GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Guilford County Commissioners voted Monday night, effective immediately, to lift the mask mandate that requires masks be worn inside all buildings in the county.
The mandate had been in place since August when commissioners voted 7-2 in favor of the rule. They set a goal to remove the mandate if Guilford County were to reach a percentage of positive COVID-19 cases at or below five percent for three consecutive weeks and/or a 70% vaccination rate.
“We outlined in our initial mask mandate, the triggers for masking reconsideration. At our last meeting, on November 2, our medical experts advised us that we had reached some of those trigger points and as a result, we came together as a Board of Health to see if we are in a safer place in order to remove masking in some part or in total,” Board chair Skip Alston said.
The county said they would also drop the mask mandate if less than five percent of COVID-19 tests came back positive for three weeks in a row. Staff confirmed the county’s past 21-day positivity rate was below five percent Monday.
Vice-chairwoman Carlvena Foster motioned to remove the mask mandate, seconded by Commissioner James Upchurch.
Alston previously said in an interview with WFMY News 2, he was almost certain the indoor mask mandate would be lifted. He cautioned there is no set rulebook as to how to mitigate a global pandemic.
Alston told News 2 Sunday, the proposal that was voted on Monday had been prepared in a document.
According to officials, the proposal includes lifting the current mask mandate in the county, voluntarily asking businesses to implement their own mandates in certain situations, and encouraging people to be careful and remain cautious heading into the holiday season.
The new rule leaves it up to each business to decide whether to require masks.
“Businesses continue to have the authority to implement voluntary guidance regarding their own operations and they can restrict service to customers who choose not to abide by reasonable and lawful safety restrictions such as wearing a mask and other COVID-19 precautions,” Guilford County wrote in a news release.
Alston noted all Guilford County employees and visitors to county facilities must still wear a mask indoors under the county manager’s authority.
County officials emphasized all Guilford County Schools students, teachers and staff must continue to wear masks under the school board’s mask mandate, and the federal mask mandate is still in place, so all masking rules for federal transportation such as buses, trains and airports remain in place.
Officials said federal masking rules also adhere to most medical facilities.
“I want to encourage everyone to please remain vigilant and up-to-date on best practices regarding COVID-19 safety. I would also like to echo the chairman’s comments and strongly urge and recommend that those who are unvaccinated continue to wear a mask when in public spaces and indoors,” Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County Public Health Division Director said.
Vann said as we approach the colder, holiday months, it is more important than ever for children 5 and older and adults to get vaccinated, avoid high-risk activities, and follow preventative methods outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Guilford County Schools will continue to require masks for students and staff after a vote last week.
Alston clarified that local public health professionals will continue to monitor metrics and county staff will update the board if the metrics begin to move in the wrong direction.