GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County Commissioners are considering a new county-wide mask mandate.
On Monday, three county commissioners and several mayors were briefed by the Guilford County Emergency Management team and leaders from Cone Health in a closed-door meeting.
“We have to take some action in order to help our citizens,” said Skip Alston, the chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in the county as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread.
“Time is of the essence,” he said. “We don’t have time to play with people’s lives and put their lives at risk.”
The most recent data on the Guilford County COVID-19 Case Count showed 625 added cases, 1,851 active cases and a 7.9 percent test positivity rate over the past 14 days.
Alston said the county is nowhere near herd immunity. Only 50 percent of people in the county are fully vaccinated, according to the NCDHHS COVID-19 Dashboard. It reports 54 percent of people are vaccinated with one dose.
According to Cone Health officials, 78 people were being treated for the virus in the hospital system on Monday. It is the highest number of COVID-19 patients since March 3.
The board of commissioners serves as the county’s health board. A new mask mandate could be issued by the commissioners as a health rule, like during the pandemic peak. People and businesses could be fined if they don’t abide by it.
“We want to do everything that we can to make sure our businesses stay open and asking their customers and their employees to possibly wear a mask in order to get services, I think they’ll take that rather than having a complete shutdown,” Alston said.
He told FOX8 a mask requirement may be possible in the near future.
“I would like to do it sooner rather than later,” Alston said. “I will take some guidance from my fellow commissioners.”
Leaders across the county were divided on the idea.
“I’m very hesitant to think about mandating masks right now,” said Jay Wagner, the mayor of High Point. “I don’t think in a free society we should mandating that people wear masks. I’m not against masking, if you want to wear a mask, wear a mask, make your own risk assessment as to whether to wear one.”
Wagner told FOX8 people have an opportunity for protection by getting the vaccine. He said forcing vaccinated people to mask up could turn away people considering the shot.
“We need to treat people as adults and let them make their own decisions about their healthcare,” Wagner said. “Their own decisions about their health.”
Alston said he will continue to talk to commissioners and mayors about ways to protect the community.
“We might not always agree, but at the same time we can still make sure we communicate with each other,” he said.
The next scheduled meeting for county commissioners is Thursday, Aug. 19.