Out of concern for the rising numbers of positive COVID cases that are occurring in the Lincolnton area, Mayor Ed Hatley called a special meeting of the Lincolnton City Council Friday evening to discuss the possibility of putting in place, within the city limits, a more stringent mask mandate.
Mandy Cohen from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and Erik Hooks from the N.C. Department of Public Safety sent a letter last Tuesday to elected leaders in 36 counties, which including Lincoln County, recommending and encouraging them to consider implementing enhanced restrictions. Enforcement steps included imposing fines for businesses that don’t enforce mask requirements, establishing lower mass gathering limits, curtailing the sale of alcohol earlier than the state curfew of 11 p.m., closing high risk venues, and limiting restaurant service. Enforcement for what would be a higher State of Emergency would fall under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130-19 and § 130A-20.
In the beginning of the meeting, Lincoln County Health Director Davin Madden was in on the meeting via telephone.
“Our numbers are definitely trending upwards,” Madden said. “COVID’s not highly infectious, but more so than the average flu. Because it’s a new virus, we don’t have any resistance to it and we don’t have a vaccine, so it puts the community at high risk, which we’re seeing and for some, they have an acute response to the virus.”
For October, the county is averaging approximately 24 cases a day, according to Madden and perhaps because Lincolnton has a high traffic due to the businesses, there’s a higher activity there. Appropriate face covering and social distancing are a useful measure to prevent spread, not as much for the user but for others, Madden said.
“We’ve gone up 40 cases since the last count here in Lincolnton,” Hatley said. “I spoke to Davin Madden earlier in the week and Atrium Health is not at full capacity but they’re certainly reaching a point of needing to do something to stop the spread of COVID, as we all are. That’s the reason why we wanted to have this meeting tonight.”
Hatley informed the council that Lincoln County is experiencing a higher level of increase in COVID numbers than the surrounding counties.
“We were identified as a red zone area by the Governor’s office,” he said. “Steve (Zickefoose) and I talked to Kelly earlier in the week, and they’ve sent a team here to the health department to help with the health tracing to try and figure out why we’re seeing such a growth. Face masks are the only thing we have right now until a vaccine comes out to try to stop the spread. Some experts say that a face mask doesn’t protect yourself, but I don’t see how that’s physically possible. I think that it’s got to help protect an individual.”
One of the problems with COVID is the conflicting and ever-changing information, councilman Roby Jetton said. Jetton expressed a concern with potentially hurting the local businesses by requiring masks and that it would be helpful to get their input prior to making any decision.
“We are one entity,” Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Martin A. Eaddy said. “We were aggressive several months ago in passing a madidate that you had to wear a mask, but it’s been proven voluntary compliance is not effective. COVID doesn’t stop at the city limits. To my knowledge, nothing’s been done county-wide yet and I’ve not heard any discussion that they’re leaning in that direction. There may be reasons for that.”
Hatley said that he had asked Zickefoose to talk with Kelly (Atkins) because Hatley didn’t want to do anything that could be misinterpreted as being political because this is the furthest thing from a political issue.
“It’s a health issue that knows no politics or anything else,” he said. “The first thing that people will say is that the city did it because we’re a higher concentration of Democrats. That’s the stupidest rationale that I think anyone can give. I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, you’re still susceptible to the virus. I don’t think Kelly expressed a desire to pursue it.”
Zickefoose confirmed that at this time, Atkins didn’t have any indication that the commissioners were going to take any action towards the recent letter that was sent out.
“They are aware that the county is a hot spot, but they’re also aware that the city is the higher contributor towards that number,” he said.
According to the most recent COVID snapshot that was sent out by the department of health, the City of Lincolnton represented 58% of COVID cases, the western side of the county, 18% and the eastern side, 24%.
Both Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan and Capt. Brian Greene said that enforcing such a mandate would be difficult and put a stress on their limited staff.
Unfortunately, Hatley said, enforcement is being passed down to the city level and it would be a whole lot easier of it would be a state or nationwide mandate.
“Realistically, we have our own experience to go by,” Eaddy said. “We passed a mask mandate and we can’t enforce it. How can it be enforced nationally? It’s got to be everybody working together and understanding. I can’t help but think that some of these folks, we are very passionate, who refuse to wear a mask, just don’t understand. Surely, given the right information, a rational person is going to take rational action. I would hope that our city of Lincolnton residents would continue to show rational thought and compassion for their neighbors that they have shown for over a century.”
Prior to making any decision, a public hearing will have to be held, but before that Hatley and the council members will meet with business owners within the city limits to discuss options.