DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham’s mayor said a new mask mandate is needed to help keep the city’s economy open and allow residents to continue gathering amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
Masks became required at 5 p.m. Monday indoors at all public places in Durham city and county, regardless of someone’s vaccination status.
Masks are already required at several other places in Durham including city buildings and Durham Public Schools.
“We know from our own experiences in Durham how effective face masks can be for limiting the transmission of the virus,” Mayor Steve Schewel said. “Face masks are a common-sense, non-economically damaging way of limiting transmission.”
The mandate is part of a state of emergency announced by the city and the county.
“If we want to keep our economy open, if we want to keep gathering together as we are able to do now in public settings — we have got to wear a face mask,” Schewel said.
The mayor cited the highly contagious delta variant as a driving factor in the need for the new mandate.
Schewel mentioned 72 percent of eligible Durham residents have been vaccinated, which is behind Wake and Orange counties.
“Even vaccinated people without symptoms can transmit to those who are vaccinated,” Schewel said. “That is why the indoor mask mandate applies to everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated. We are working together to keep each other safe.”
Schewel said the city will not be doing any spot checks to see if businesses are enforcing this mandate, but he said people can file complaints.
He said those businesses will receive a letter from the city attorney’s office about the mandate. He said if the business still does not comply, a law enforcement officer could respond, and the business could get fined up to $1,000.
“I can tell you as the mayor of Durham this is not something I want to do, this is something we need to do,” Schewel said.
Khedron Mims owns Rivals Barber Shop on Mangum Street in Durham and he said he plans to enforce the mask mandate, but he’s a little concerned about the impact it could have on his business.
“This puts us back to where we were before,” Mims said. “You use your resources, your time, and energy, getting your business back stabilized, and with this mask mandate, it’s like COVID is here to stay.”
Mims said he’s a little concerned that this mandate could discourage his customers from feeling safe about coming to get a haircut, but he said it could just as easily have the opposite effect.
“There are some clients who don’t want to come to a facility with individuals not wearing a mask at all,” Mims said.
At Smitten Boutique on Hillsborough Road in Durham, owner Nancy McKaig said she had been requiring customers to wear masks since last Monday. She said she was glad to hear that the city and county were putting a mandate in place.
“I don’t think it’s a step backwards. In our case, it’s a proactive step,” McKaig said.
McKaig said that requiring masks will help keep everyone safe and hopefully keep her business from having to close again.
“We all have our clenched teeth that we’re going to have to shut down again,” McKaig said. “I think it’s a small sacrifice to pay for us to be able to stay open and conduct business.”
Masks won’t be required for those under 5 years old and can be removed for eating and drinking. There are several other exceptions to the rules.
Schewel said they will go back and reevaluate this mandate in a week or two, but right now there’s no word on when it will be lifted.
City officials said information regarding how to submit a complaint or report a violation will be posted to the City of Durham’s website.
The Durham City Attorney’s Office told CBS 17 on Monday that during the first mask mandate, the city largely issued letters of warning, pointing out to folks where they were out of compliance.