Raleigh mandates masks; vaccinated city workers to get $250
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Those who visit indoor spaces within the city of Raleigh will now need to wear a face mask to limit the spread of COVID-19, the mayor said in an announcement hours ahead of time.
The mayor of North Carolina’s second-largest city, Mary-Ann Baldwin, also said on Friday that city employees who are already fully vaccinated or get fully vaccinated by Sept. 17 will receive a $250 reward and two days of bonus leave.
“The number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase in our community and across the state at an alarming rate,” Baldwin said in a statement. “The idea that we can hope COVID-19 will just go away on its own is not a reality. It’s time to take responsible action and today we are taking an important step to make sure the people of this community, and those who visit us, remain healthy and safe.”
The move to reimpose the mask mandate will only be within Raleigh city limits, not Wake County. But the requirement does apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The largest city in the state may also soon decide to compel residents and visitors to wear masks indoors, as Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles backtracked comments she made earlier this week that she lacked the authority to compel people to wear masks indoors.
Renewed masking requirements and further financial rewards for vaccinations are coming as the more contagious delta variant sweeps across the state, giving North Carolina its worst COVID-19 metrics in months.
Baldwin’s order does not have an expiration date.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor mask wearing in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. One county is seeing “substantial” spread of the virus, while all others are at “high” levels of transmission.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper let his statewide mask mandate expire on July 30 at a time when metrics were quickly worsening. He is also letting local K-12 school districts determine their own masking policies, though he is strongly urging them to compel their students and staff to wear face coverings inside the classroom.
The latest numbers the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released on Friday show recent daily cases near 7,000 for the first time in more than six months. For the first time since the middle of January, the share of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has surpassed 10% in each of the past 12 days.
The 2,483 people currently hospitalized in North Carolina due to the virus is the highest count since Feb. 5, and the daily death toll will only continue to rise in the coming weeks.
Despite the increased spread, health officials are encouraged that more unvaccinated people appear to be coming in for a first shot. A combination of factors are likely contributing to increased vaccinations, including concern over the delta variant, more employers mandating their workers get vaccinated and a $100 financial incentive for all unvaccinated residents 18 or older who visit a participating site this month.
The more than 82,000 North Carolinians who came in for a shot last week represents the highest weekly total since the week of May 17. Nearly three-fourths of Wake County residents eligible for the vaccine have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, according to state health department data.
Baldwin warned of further restrictions if more people don’t get vaccinated.
“The single most important thing we can do to slow the spread of COVID is to get vaccinated,” Baldwin said. “I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible so we don’t have to go back to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.”
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak.
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.