GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Masks are returning to some parts of Guilford County as COVID-19 cases surge.
Guilford County Commissioner Chair Skip Alston on Tuesday issued a mask mandate for unincorporated areas of the county. Those places include Gibsonville, Sedalia, Pleasant Garden, and Jamestown. The mandate goes into effect Wednesday. It does not include Greensboro or High Point.
According to county officials, city mayors will have to sign off before the mandate can be implemented within each city.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she believes previous mask mandates put too high a burden on businesses to enforce the rules, and she's not sure they cut down cases.
"If a business chooses to ask people to wear masks that’s up to them but to ask somebody who makes $15 an hour and is living paycheck to paycheck to enforce this mandate, really is unfair," Vaughan said.
The mandate will last until next Thursday, Jan. 13, the day of the county's special called meeting to discuss a countywide mandate. If the county votes to approve the mandate on Jan. 13, the mandate will then apply to the entire county.
Tal Blevins owns Machete in Greensboro and hopes a countywide mandate is approved.
"What we always see is when we have a mask mandate is a couple of weeks later the numbers start going down," Blevins said. When they lift a mask mandate, a few weeks later the numbers start going up again."
“We have seen a tremendous increase in COVID-19 cases (since the holidays),” Guilford County Public Health Director Iulia Vann said.
Simply Thai and Sushi in Jamestown is still recovering from shutdowns and staffing shortages earlier in the pandemic.
"If the city believes the mask mandate is going to help us, then we have to follow the protocol in the guidelines because at the end of the day we're trying to stay here," the restaurant's manager, Erick Razo said.
Vann provided a report during Tuesday’s meeting that showed the number of COVID-19 cases in the county from May 8, 2020, to the end of December 2021.
“The county saw a large increase in COVID cases in the last few weeks of December,” she said. "In the next 14 days, we are expecting hospitalizations to continue to rise."
Officials said the goal of the press conference was to address the county’s sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
"We are expecting a surge in infections," Alston said at the start of Tuesday's meeting. "These are more than just numbers, these are people. This is a crisis that needs our immediate attention. We have a responsibility to ensure our citizens are safe. We must act now."
County officials said Alston would also address the potential impact on countywide resources and give an update on a recent meeting with local mayors and public health professionals.
Alston told WFMY Sunday, he's worried, with the fourteen-day positivity rate having grown to 19.1%, compared to the 4.2% it was back on Nov. 15 when the county’s mask mandate was lifted.
He said more than 800 people have gotten the virus last week alone.
"This is the most logical way to protect ourselves and others," Alston said. “Until a higher percentage of our population is vaccinated, masks are how we will keep ourselves protected. We all need to become a part of the solution.”