PITTSBORO — Pittsboro has reinstituted an indoor mask mandate, mirroring similar action from municipalities and counties across North Carolina.
The restriction, which began at 5 p.m. Friday, applies only within town limits. Chatham County and its other municipalities have not introduced mask requirements since the statewide mandate was dropped in July.
Pittsboro’s decision is in response to worsening proliferation of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which has ravaged North Carolina in recent months, according to Mayor Jim Nass.
“The virus is surging through our community and adjoining communities, and it is our responsibility to take appropriate steps to protect public health and safety,” he said in a press release Friday. “Wearing a mask is a simple step we can all take to protect the health of our loved ones, especially children who are not old enough to receive the vaccine.”
Many of Chatham’s surrounding communities earlier enacted indoor mask mandates. Orange and Durham counties were the first to require masks last month, with Wake County soon following suit. Several cities and municipalities have added their own mask mandates, including Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Zebulon.
The requirement is in harmony with federal recommendations, Nass pointed out.
“Pittsboro aligns with CDC guidance, which recommends everyone in areas designated as having substantial spread wear a mask in public indoor settings — even those people who are fully vaccinated,” he said. “Masks have proven effective in stopping viral spread, thereby keeping infection rates down.”
The county government has so far refrained from universally requiring masks, though it has required them in indoor county facilities. The county's public health officials advise Chathamites to mask in public settings.
“The data can be overwhelming, but what is important to understand is that there are nearly as many cases of COVID-19 today as there have been at any point in the pandemic,” CCPHD Director Mike Zelek said in a press release last month. “Hospitals are filling up, mainly with those who are not vaccinated. Cases are not contained to any setting or neighborhood, but 90% are among the unvaccinated. The answer to this problem is clear: Vax up and mask up.”
Whether to require masking in Pittsboro first came up in a board of commissioners meeting two weeks ago. Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin — presiding over the board in Nass’ absence — indicated she and the mayor favored reintroduction of a mandate.
Under the terms of North Carolina’s ongoing state of emergency, mayors hold executive power to impose mask mandates. Most of Pittsboro’s commissioners, however, said they favored a softer approach.
“I’m not in favor of this,” Commissioner Jay Farrell said. “I think the citizens of Pittsboro can make their own decisions. If they want to wear a mask, that’s fine. If they don’t, if they’re vaccinated or not vaccinated, I feel like that’s putting too much pressure or too much mandate on our citizens. That’s pretty much all I have to say about that, but I’m not in favor of it.”
Commissioner Michael Fiocco likewise “stop(ped) short of supporting a mandate.”
“But I would like to encourage everyone to do the right thing for yourself and for your fellow Pittsborian,” he said.
Besides Baldwin, only Commissioner John Bonitz explicitly supported the idea of a mask mandate.
“I also favor the idea of a rule for requiring masks indoors at retail establishments in Pittsboro,” he said. “... It is clear that the Delta variant is more contagious or virulent and the evidence for that is pretty clear.”
The town’s mask mandate will remain in effect without expiry, but Nass said he hopes circumstances allow him to loosen the restriction soon.
“We hope to be able to rescind this mandatory mask order as soon as possible,” he said, “and ask that all of our citizens join together to keep our children and most at risk citizens safe.”
As of Saturday, 1,368,743 people in North Carolina had tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 16,108 had died since March 2020, according to state health officials. On Friday, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported 5,805 new COVID-19 cases and 96 coronavirus-related deaths.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dldolder.
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