Albemarle mask mandate to remain in place as county positivity rate not yet below five percent

Published 1:56 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

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The City of Albemarle mask mandate, which has been in effect since August, will remain in place until the county’s percent positivity falls below five percent for a week, according to Human Resources Director Dana Chaney, who provided City Council with an update during its meeting Monday regarding the city’s response to COVID-19.

After getting as high as almost 17 percent in early September, when the delta variant was arguably at its worst in Stanly County, the positivity rate had gradually been decreasing and fell to 5.6 percent on Nov. 1, its lowest point in months, before ticking back up. As of Monday, the rate was 6.6 percent.

“Unfortunately over the last few weeks, that rate has been trending upward again,” Chaney said.

Under the mandate, all employees and visitors inside public buildings are required to wear a mask if they cannot adequately maintain six feet of distance.

She also informed them that 95 city employees have reported getting fully vaccinated, which accounts for about 35 percent of its roughly 275 employees. This matters because companies of 100 or more employees have until Jan. 4 to ensure all their workers are either fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and mandatory masking. The measure was announced by President Joe Biden in September, and details were released earlier this month by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to the mandate, paid time off will be provided for employees to get vaccinated, as well as sick leave for workers to recover from any side effects of the vaccine.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed by Republican-controlled states across the country, claiming that the mandate was an unlawful overreach and it curbed individual liberty. The petitions will be consolidated and heard by one federal appeals court chosen at random this week, according to NPR. The case could eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

Since North Carolina is one of the more than 25 states with its own state-run OSHA program to protect workers, Chaney told council, the state Department of Labor can choose how, or whether, it will implement such a mandate, assuming it is allowed to remain in place.

“We don’t know how it’s going to shake out in North Carolina, but we’re actively monitoring it,” Chaney said.

She noted the city has been in conversation with Atrium Health about the possibility of providing weekly testing to unvaccinated workers.

Chaney said companies that fail to comply with the rule could be fined up to around $14,000 for every serious violation.

Forty-one percent of county residents have been fully vaccinated and 44 percent have received at least one dose, according to state health data.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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