The Orange and Chatham County governments have announced a new, indoor mask mandate that will go into effect Wednesday, August 11 at 5 p.m.

Orange County’s new order, as shared Tuesday afternoon, will require anyone 2 years and older to wear face masks in indoor, public spaces, except when actively eating or drinking. Vaccination status does not exempt anyone from being required to wear a mask.

The order is the latest public health measure enacted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the community, specifically the stronger delta variant of the virus. The town governments of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough will each update their state of emergency orders and guidelines to reflect the county’s new order.

“It is unfortunate that we have to reinstate the mask mandate at this time,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle in Tuesday’s release. “However, the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant, predominantly and most seriously among the unvaccinated, has created the situation that we now find ourselves in. Ultimately, extensive vaccination is what is needed to contain this pandemic.”

Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver agrees. “This step feels important now because delta’s a whole different game,” she said Tuesday on 97.9 The Hill. “And this variant of the virus is just so much more contagious than what we experienced previously, that it’s becoming clear we need to do everything we can to slow the spread in our community.”

Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard also confirmed to Chapelboro on Tuesday the Chatham County Government will enact their own indoor mask mandate on Wednesday.

“We clearly have not done what we needed to do to stem the tide and to ensure that we’re protecting each other and putting a cap on this thing,” Howard said Tuesday. “I think we were all very much ready to step back into a state that was easier to live in, no masks, access to friends and family and our normal lives, and we did it too soon. But even more than that, too many of us did not get vaccinated and this is a direct consequence of that.

“So, it’s distressing that we’re at this place,” added Howard, “on the precipice of reopening schools and universities, and we are back where we were last year. We have this weapon at hand, we have this incredible tool in a vaccination, and not enough of us have taken that step.”

Orange County and Chatham County’s announcement follows Durham County’s updated state of emergency order requiring masks in indoor public settings, which went into effect on Monday. County facilities in Orange County already required all visitors and employees to wear masks while indoors.

During the July 4-17 period, only one county in North Carolina was listed as red in the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, indicating “critical” of “high” virus impact and community transmission. Less than one month later, 90 out of the state’s 100 counties are red – including Orange County and Chatham County.

On August 8, North Carolina neared 7,000 new, single-day COVID cases. This is the largest single-day spike in cases since the summer began.

In July, Orange County extended its state of emergency order due to the COVID-19 pandemic indefinitely, citing the need for continued public health responses to the virus spread.

As mask mandates are implemented, vaccination efforts are still underway. Currently, 76 percent of Orange County’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – as compared to the state where only 47 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“Even though we have a high percentage of our eligible population vaccinated, we must use every tool at our disposal to combat this virus,” said Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart in Tuesday’s release. “While masks are effective at slowing the spread, the number one way to protect yourself and those around you is to get vaccinated.”

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