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Outdoor mask mandate lifted, gathering limits raised

SALISBURY — Gov. Roy Cooper says the state will no longer require people to wear masks outdoors starting Friday and indoor mask mandates will be lifted once two-thirds of North Carolinians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen made the announcements during a Wednesday news conference as the governor released an executive order that takes effect Friday. In addition to lifting outdoor mask mandates, Cooper’s new order increases gathering limits to 100 indoors and 200 outdoors.

The executive order, including the outdoor mask mandate, takes effect at 5 p.m. Friday and lasts until June 1, when Cooper says he hopes to lift gathering limits and social distancing requirements entirely. The outdoor mask mandate’s removal applies to outdoor youth sports such as football, baseball, softball and soccer. Occupancy limits remain in place.

“Even though we’re continuing our dimmer switch approach to easing restrictions, we need to stay vigilant,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s announcement about outdoor masks comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces outside unless they’re in large groups of strangers.

Cohen said the two-thirds number for lifting indoor mask mandates was determined because about 90% of people who get their first dose continue to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Once it reaches the two-thirds number, the state can live with COVID-19 and put the pandemic “in the rear-view mirror,” she said.

“That’s not herd immunity level, but that is enough protection that we can live with this virus,” she said.

On Wednesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 38.5% of North Carolina residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The number is lower in Rowan County — 26.3%.

The state on Wednesday reported 37,342 Rowan County residents have received one dose and 29,096 are fully vaccinated. While most people 65 and older have been vaccinated in Rowan County, the largest percentage of total vaccinations is the 50-64 age group, which is a larger portion of the total population in the county.

The number of first doses administered last week, however, was the lowest in weeks, and Cohen said health officials have noticed fewer folks receiving their vaccines. She said that’s part of the reason why the state is moving toward a more targeted approach and away from mass vaccination events. Most people in the state can access a vaccine within 5 miles of their home, she said.

The Rowan County Health Department already has adopted that strategy, canceling mass vaccination events for first doses starting this week. Here, Food Lion and Walmart offer vaccinations in addition to chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. Local pharmacies, including Moose Pharmacy, the Medicine Shoppe, Country Pharmacy in Rockwell, Price Pharmacy and Cannon Pharmacy.

An on-campus clinic for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at Catawba College is scheduled Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The Rowan County Health Department plans to administer more than 400 doses of the vaccine to people associated with Catawba College and the general public. People interested in signing up can visit eventbrite.com/e/catawba-college-vaccination-event-registration-152401618343 to claim an appointment.

 

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