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Forsyth County, Winston-Salem reimpose masking rules in government facilities
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Forsyth County, Winston-Salem reimpose masking rules in government facilities

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Because of the recent sharp increase of new COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County, city of Winston-Salem and county governments are requiring visitors and employees to wear masks inside all of their buildings.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines issued a pandemic emergency order update that went into effect at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, the county restrictions begin Monday.

In a separate announcement, Novant Health Inc. announced Friday it is postponing its planned Welcome Back street festivals for Aug. 7 in Wilmington and downtown Winston-Salem until Aug. 21.

Novant cited in a statement its decision is in response to rising delta variant COVID-19 cases in the two communities.

The city and county cited the latest guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control that advises everyone in areas with substantial or high spread to wear masks in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.

Forsyth officials said masks will be provided to visitors who do not have one.

“Cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County have tripled in the last two weeks, and there is substantial spread of the virus,” county health director Joshua Swift said in a statement.

“Over 90% of cases are among those unvaccinated. Now is the time to get vaccinated and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Joines’ updated emergency order requires masks for individuals in any facility owned or leased by the city “where it is not possible to consistently maintain and adhere to the CDC’s six-foot social distancing recommendation.”

That includes parking decks, the Winston-Salem Transit Center and its transit vehicles. A list of facilities is at www.cityofws.org under COVID-19 updates. The city plans to post signs at affected facilities.

However, the restoring of requiring masks does not apply to city owned and leased open-air facilities, such as basketball courts, swimming pools, picnic shelters, gazebos, tennis court, the Woodland Cemetery shelter, Reynolds Park golf course and the uncovered/open air portions of Truist Stadium.

In terms of Bowman Gray Stadium, city officials said separately that the masking order affects the field house, concession stands, press boxes, restrooms, ticket booths, maintenance building, race building and equipment storage building. The mandate doesn’t affect stadium seating.

“While a face covering will not be required for such open-air facilities, individuals are strongly encouraged to adhere” to the CDC social distancing guidelines,” according to Joines’ order.

The city order has exemptions for religious beliefs and medical and behavioral health conditions and disabilities. Other exemptions include: active eating and drinking; strenuous exercise; and for children under age 5.

The order does not require those declining to wear a mask to produce documentation or any other proof of a condition addressing a medical and behavioral health condition and disability.

“However, the city may elect to provide access or service to said person through alternative means, such as telephone, email or other electronic means rather than in-person,” according to the order.

The order allows for the issuance of civil penalties for violations “not remedied after voluntary compliance is sought.”

Local and state public-health officials say getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and death, and slow the spread of the virus.

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Free COVID-19 vaccinations are available throughout the community, including at the Forsyth County Department of Public Health and through Novant Health Inc. and Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Plans changing

Novant announced plans June 1 for three street festivals, including in Charlotte on July 24, as a sign the system had gained enough confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine progress made during the first half of 2021.

Novant said at that time its goal is “to support diverse local businesses, honor health-care heroes and celebrate the milestones reached with the help of community members.”

“We are so excited to welcome our community back to life and enjoy these festivals as we continue to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Jesse Cureton, Novant’s chief consumer officer. “This is a remarkable way to celebrate everyone who has helped us get through the pandemic.

However, Cureton said in a statement released Friday that the decision to delay the scheduled events is due to rising COVID-19 cases in the community, particularly involving the delta variant.

Novant said it was following new CDC guidance, issued Friday, in response to analyzing community spread cases associated with large public gatherings. The CDC recommended event organizers should consider measures, such as limiting capacity or postponing events.

“Novant Health looks forward to rescheduling the events once the numbers show decreased community spread and will announce new dates when available,” the system said.

Governor’s masking decision

The city and county orders follow Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to end the statewide mask mandate at 5 p.m. Friday.

However, Cooper and state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen are strongly urging local districts to require masks indoors in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status of students, educators and staff.

Cooper said Thursday during a COVID-19 update press conference that he doesn’t believe ending the mandate is unwise, but rather an opportunity for private businesses, school districts and other groups to step up their own vaccination verification steps for employees.

“Businesses know what to do. People know what to do. Schools know what to do,” Cooper said. “Our focus is on getting more people vaccinated.

To emphasize the strategy, Cooper’s executive order requires state government employees in administration cabinet agencies to verify their vaccination status by Sept. 1.

For those who are not vaccinated, they will be required to wear a mask while indoors and be subject to COVID-19 testing at least once a week.

Cooper officials said that as of Thursday, 68,322 state employees would be affected, broken down as: 54,516 in permanent cabinet-agency jobs; 9,430 who work in state health-care facilities — who are being required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 28 — and 4,376 temporary cabinet-agency employees.

Cooper said administration human-resources officials are determining what consequences will be applied to those employees who decline to comply with the executive order.

The order does not apply to employees of the eight Council of State departments. It will be up to each Council of State head official to choose where to adopt the requirements.

Dr. Christopher Ohl discusses mask wearing decisions

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@wyoungWSJ

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