Cooper lifts outdoor mask mandate, relaxes other COVID restrictions

Cooper lifts outdoor mask mandate, relaxes other COVID restrictions

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

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Masks will no longer be required outdoors starting this Friday, Gov. Cooper announced Wednesday, one day after the CDC relaxed its mask recommendation for vaccinated individuals outdoors.

Why it matters: For the last year public health officials have stressed the importance of masks as a critical tool in combating the coronavirus pandemic. Changes in mask guidance signal a turning point in the pandemic.

Yes, but: “It’s a double edged sword,” Michael Thompson, associate chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UNC Charlotte, tells me. “In terms of the risk to the individuals who are fully vaccinated, it’s appropriate. We have no way of knowing who’s vaccinated or not in public so it takes a lot of reliance in us to trust neighbors to be doing the right thing.”

COVID restrictions: In addition to the outdoor mask mandate, the governor also made changes to mass gathering restrictions.

  • The indoor mass gathering limit will increase from 50 to 100.
  • The outdoor mass gathering limit will increase from 100 to 200.
  • Masks are still required in public places indoors.

What’s next: Cooper says that the indoor mask mandate will be lifted once two-thirds of the state’s adult population is at least partially vaccinated. On June 1 the governor says he plans to lift additional restrictions.

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The big picture: Vaccinated or not, it’s too soon to let your guard down completely. Hotspots like India and even Michigan show how quickly COVID can start spreading again.

  • “The combination of masks indoors and vaccinations are the key. I think masks will be here for a while,” Thompson says.

By the numbers: The governor called state metrics stable, but said, “we’re not seeing the decline in metrics that we’d like to see. This tells us the pandemic is not over.” Here’s some of the state- and countywide COVID data:

  • 29.6% of Mecklenburg County residents have been vaccinated with at least one dose. Statewide, 48.5% of residents 18+, and 38.5% of the total population have been vaccinated with at least one dose
  • The percentage of positive cases is 7% in Mecklenburg County and 7.5% statewide. (Note: NCDHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen contextualized this data by pointing out that fewer people are getting tested.)
  • 167 people are currently being hospitalized for COVID in the county; statewide the number is 1,103.

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