Winston-Salem to lift its mask mandate; Wake Forest still undecided

The city’s mandate will lift on March 1, and university officials expect to have a decision before then


Aine Pierre

A poster in Benson University Center outlines Wake Forest’s current masking policy.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines announced in a Feb. 17 press release that the Winston-Salem mask mandate, which has been in effect since August of 2021, will be lifted by March 1. 

Joines came to the decision after a discussion with Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist infectious disease specialist Dr. Christopher Ohl. 

“This is a big milestone for us,” Ohl said. “We have decided that on March 1, the mask mandate will be rescinded. I think it’s okay for the following reasons — our case counts are going down, about seven a day. [The second reason] is that the end of February and the first part of March is usually when our respiratory viral season usually winds down. Lastly, N-95 masks are ubiquitous now, and people can get them.”

According to the New York Times’ COVID-19 dashboard for Forsyth County, the daily case average in the county is at 165 cases as of Feb. 17, a 70% decrease over the past 14 days. Additionally, hospitalizations have decreased by 22% over the past 14 days. Test positivity rates in the county currently sit at 25%. 

“As treatments become more available, we can give effective treatment to people who are at higher risk of having complications of COVID-19 which reduces the impact of the virus,” Ohl said. 

According to the Wake Forest COVID-19 dashboard, as of Feb. 18, there are 25 total known confirmed active cases of COVID-19 on campus, much lower than a few weeks ago. The university plans to adhere to local and state regulations and anticipates an update regarding mask mandates around campus before March 1. 

“We will continue to review protocols and make updates consistent with the local and state requirements,” Wake Forest spokesperson Cheryl Walker said. “No decision has been made yet about changing the requirement to wear face masks indoors, but I expect a university update before March 1.”

In light of the anticipated mandate lifts, Ohl suggests that those who are especially vulnerable or will be in large crowds continue to wear masks. Ohl mentioned that some individuals will voluntarily wear masks due to preexisting conditions.

Additionally, regardless of the lifted mandate, federally regulated transportation will still require passengers to wear masks.  

In a profile interview with the Old Gold & Black earlier this month, Ohl was quoted saying: “At some point, we will be safe, and I’m betting by the end of the semester that we’re going to be able to take our masks off.” 

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While Ohl remains confident in lifting the mandate, he also plans to monitor the state of the virus. 

“I don’t see any nasty villain variants on the horizon right now to put our maskless state at risk, but it’s possible,” Ohl said. “We could have another surge, maybe next fall or winter as respiratory virus season wraps around again. We’ll be keeping an eye on things — an eye on transmission in schools, community transmissions and any nasty variants that might be on the horizon. We can always bring these tools back that are effective to reduce viral transmission if we need to.”

Walker says the university will continue to be in conversation with Ohl regarding the state of the mandate and predicts the university will receive updates from the city before the Winston-Salem mandate lifts on March 1.