For now, wearing a face mask in indoor public places remains optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents in Chowan and Perquimans counties despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the governor’s office recommending they be worn where the rate of COVID-19 transmission is either high or substantial.
But officials in both counties were expected to discuss possible changes to that stance at their meetings this week.
As of Saturday, the CDC considered Perquimans an area of substantial transmission for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while Chowan was considered an area of high spread.
As evidence of how quickly those designations can change based on the number of new cases and positivity rates, the CDC’s 7-day COVID tracker a few days earlier had rated Perquimans high for transmission and Chowan substantial. As of Friday, Perquimans had seven active cases of COVID and Chowan had 19, according to Albemarle Regional Health Services.
Public health officials said COVID cases again are rising — after dropping for months — largely because of a new highly contagious delta strain of the coronavirus that causes the disease. Cases are particularly spreading in areas where COVID-19 vaccination rates are low. As of Saturday, the percentage of fully vaccinated residents in Perquimans was 19.5% while Chowan’s rate was nearly double that, 35.9%
Based on the CDC’s warnings about how quickly the delta variant of COVID is spreading, Gov. Roy Cooper announced July 29 that state government will begin verifying the vaccination status of its workers.
“Employees not vaccinated are required to wear a mask and be tested at least once a week,” according to a press release from the governor’s office. The governor’s statement said a recent upswing in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is driven by unvaccinated North Carolinians.
“Until more people get the vaccine, we will continue living with the very real threat of serious disease, and we will continue to see more dangerous and contagious variants like Delta,” Cooper said.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that both public and private employers verify vaccination status of employees.
The statement from the governor’s office also cited the new CDC guidance on masks.
“Moving forward, everyone in a red or orange county in North Carolina, including those who have been vaccinated, should wear a mask in public indoor settings,” the statement says. “Additionally, in accordance with the updated CDC guidance, all K-12 schools should require universal masking, regardless of vaccination status.”
Local officials were expected to discuss this week what additional steps if any should be taken in light of the CDC and Cooper’s guidance.
Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath said wearing masks in county buildings is “recommended but still optional at this point.”
Heath also replied “not at this time” when asked whether any consideration had been given at this point to mandatory masks for county employees or verification of vaccination status for county employees.
Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard said “right now it is still optional” when asked about mask-wearing in county facilities. But he noted county commissioners might meet sometime this week to discuss how to respond to the CDC’s latest guidance.
Asked whether mandatory testing or masks for county employees might be considered, Howard reiterated that county officials likely would discuss those issues this week.
The Perquimans County Board of Education was slated to discuss masks for students, staff, teachers and visitors when it met Monday, Aug. 2.
The Chowan County Board of Education was expected to discuss the matter at its Tuesday, Aug. 3 meeting.
Elsewhere, Matt Thomas, camp director at Camp Cale, said the summer camp season is over for this year. During sessions of summer camp, Camp Cale implemented a number of COVID-19 precautions including a “closed campus” with drive-through drop-off and pickup for campers.
The camp also cleaned and sanitized surfaces throughout the day, Thomas said.
Now that the summer camping season is over, the camp is once again renting the facilities for groups to hold their own events.
Thomas said groups that use the camp over the next few months will come up with their own rules related to masks or vaccinations. The camp will continue to protect against COVID-19 by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing facilities on a regular basis, Thomas said.