By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on June 12, 2020
In a video released early this afternoon, Dare County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard announced that the county would not require the wearing of face masks, primarily because of the “inability to enforce” such a measure. But he asked business owners “to please require that masks be worn by employees and customers.”
At a press briefing about a half hour later — on a day when North Carolina reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases — Governor Roy Cooper said “our concern is growing” about the trends relating to the outbreak in the state. And with the current Safer-at-Home order potentially set to expire in two weeks, the governor emphasized that “there has not been a decision made” about moving into a “Phase two-point-five or three.”
These messages come against the backdrop of some increasing worry about the pandemic. In Dare County, the number of overall cases remains low at 32, and Woodard pointed out that there have only been 10 new cases since the county opened up to visitors on May 16. But given a recent spike of seven new cases within a few days and, as Woodard noted, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people now on the Outer Banks during a “booming” tourist season, some momentum has been building to try and mandate the wearing of face masks when people are in public.
In his message released on June 12, Woodard said the Dare County Control Group — consisting of himself, the six town mayors, the county sheriff and the superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore — met for the first time in nearly a month on June 11. The item on the agenda was whether to make face masks mandatory.
“The group concurred that the wearing of face masks will continue to be strongly encouraged, but not mandatory,” Woodard said. “The main reason for this is the inability to enforce a mandatory mask requirement” through local law enforcement personnel.
At several times during the video, the chairman brandished his own face mask, noting that, “I personally use my mask everywhere I go in public.” He added that, “if you’re a business owner, please request that masks be worn by employees and customers. If you’re a service provider, please wear a mask when you visit a home to make a repair or provide a service. It shows respect for others and their safety.”
At the state level, “concern” about the numbers
The 2 p.m. June 12 press briefing by Governor Roy Cooper and Department of Health and Human Services director Mandy Cohen came on a day when the state announced a record number of 1,768 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the total well past the 40,000 mark.
“These trends and numbers are sobering,” noted Cooper.
For her part, Cohen discussed several key trends in the trajectory of the virus and reported “a fairly sizeable increase in new confirmed cases,” and a generally rising number of related hospitalizations. She also explained that in North Carolina, the number of positive tests as a percentage of overall tests, is currently about 10%, making it one of the highest percentages of positive cases in the nation.
On a more optimistic note, the state reported more than 21,000 new daily COVID-19 tests on June 12, marking a continuing significant ramp-up of that testing. But even with a record level of testing, Cohen said that “it’s the pace of the increase [in new COVID-19 cases] that’s concerning.”
In response to a question from a reporter, Cohen also stated that the rising number of new cases isn’t simply a function of increased testing, but is occurring “because we are seeing more viral spread.”
The “sobering” numbers led Cooper to repeat on several occasions that no decisions had been made yet on whether the state will further ease restrictions in a coming Phase Two-point-five or Phase Three. The current Safer-At-Home order extends until at least June 26. Cooper was also non-committal in response to a question about whether, in light of the COVID-19 trends, the state might consider re-tightening restrictions.
At one point in the briefing, a reporter asked whether, in light of the jump in cases in recent weeks, North Carolina was in the middle of a “second wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noting that North Carolina had been fortunate enough to avoid a major surge in cases earlier in the pandemic, Cohen responded that, “I think this is our first wave.”