On Aug. 16, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines reinstated a mask mandate for all indoor spaces within city limits, regardless of individual vaccination status.
The policy comes in response to a rise in Delta variant COVID-19 cases both around the country and especially here in North Carolina. On Aug. 4 Governor Roy Cooper announced that while a statewide mask mandate is “still on the table,” and that his administration’s “primary focus is going to be on vaccinations.”
This announcement prompted local leaders to reinstate mask mandates within their own municipalities. Wake, Durham, Mecklenberg and Guilford Counties have all issued county-wide mandates; Forsyth County has yet to implement any such measure.
Joines reissued the mask mandate after speaking with fellow mayors and medical officials, including Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift and Dr. Chris Ohl, an infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
“All [the people I talked to] suggested that we need to take some steps to get this spike under control,” Joines told WFMY News2. “Particularly, I was concerned about the diminishing number of intensive care beds in our city.”
There are several exceptions to the new mandate which differentiate it from previous mask mandates. Presenters that are at least 10 feet away from their audience, individuals citing religious beliefs and those in the middle of “strenuous exercise” represent just three of the 14 categories of individuals who are exempt from the mandate.
Also noteworthy is Joines’ amendment, which allows private businesses and third parties to require proof of vaccination status.
Vice President of Campus Life Penny Rue says that, because the city-wide mandate includes the Reynolda campus, the university’s mask guidelines will not be lifted until Joines lifts his own decree.
“The good news was that it wasn’t really widely divergent from what we’d already said we would do,” Rue said. “I know it’s their intention to reevaluate regularly as well.”
Rue also mentioned the fact that, since both the city and university are advised by Ohl, “we tend to know exactly where things are headed [decision-wise].”
Rue does not believe that breakthrough cases — those when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for the virus — will be a big issue at Wake Forest due to high vaccine efficacy rates.
“I was impressed at Convocation on Friday,” Rue said. “Mask compliance is very high among the student body, and that’s what’s going to keep us safe. We’ve got a very, very small number of unvaccinated people — less than 200 — who chose to get an exemption. And some of those individuals are under-vaccinated, meaning they may be coming from abroad locations where they couldn’t get a shot. [Now that they are here at Wake Forest] they’re part of our testing regimen and our vaccine distribution.”
It is important to note that both Wake Forest University President Susan Wente and Student Body President Ally Swartzberg were present at convocation, so students may be less compliant when important officials are not around.