Harnett County Lifts COVID Restrictions

By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

Harnett County’s acting manager on Monday recommended a return to normalcy.

Commissioners accepted the recommendation of acting County Manager George Wood to drop most of the COVID-19 restrictions dealing with social distancing and mask use in public facilities.

Wood based his decision in response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s guideline scaleback last month and data from several states that already opened up. Cooper’s latest executive order recommended unvaccinated people continue wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, but did not require it.

“We have seen a marked increase in both cases and deaths recently,” Wood said. “We have the evidence from these earlier opening states that shows removing these restrictions has not caused a spike in deaths.”

Wood referenced states such as Florida and Texas where governors pulled back on restrictions earlier than most places and have not reported significant increases in key COVID-19 metrics. States like New York, California and Michigan, where governors imposed and still maintain strict restrictions on residents, have fared much worse, Wood said.

“Even [National Institute of Health Director] Dr. Fauci has said he cannot explain the differences,” said Wood. “In my view, the best test of any theory is how well it predicted what occurred. We now have data from Texas and Florida, and … opening these states has not resulted in a spike in deaths. They are doing much better than the most severest locked-down states.”

Wood referenced studies conducted in Denmark and Stanford University that found mask use is at best minimally effective in protecting against COVID-19. Confirmed new coronavirus cases in Harnett County peaked at 551 in early January but have since tailed off to under 100. According to health director John Rouse, more than 64% of county residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

“That’s the most susceptible population group,” Wood said.”We now have effective vaccinations for the virus. We have treatments for those who get infected if caught early. We have sufficient testing supplies to perform early detection. We have data proving what the most vulnerable populations are, who they are, and steps we can take to protect them.”

Opening up, Wood said, also afforded municipalities the chance to pull back from people’s lives.

“They have the added benefit that they are no longer infringing on their citizen’s rights to worship, to assemble, to attend schools and universities, and even to operate their own businesses,” said Wood. “It has improved their economies, their citizen’s mental health and physical health by getting medical services back to normal, and has removed the need for the state to finance unemployment and other benefits required when businesses are shut down for prolonged periods.”

When it comes to teleworking county employees returning to the office, Wood said decisions will be made by his office along with department heads on a case-by-case basis. Anyone working remotely who wishes to continue doing so will have to submit a request to continue teleworking giving all of their justifications. Wood said it’s imperative that county offices are fully staffed and ready to serve the public when needed.

“That’s the paramount issue: we need to make sure that when a citizen comes in for service that all of our offices are adequately staffed to provide that service,” Wood said. “That’s first and foremost in my mind about it. We need to take into account the workload impact on fellow employees if some are allowed to telework. We want to get our operations back to normal as quickly as possible.”

Commissioner Barbara McKoy wanted to make sure that anyone who still wants to wear a mask inside county buildings can.

“Some people have underlying conditions,” said McKoy. “We don’t know who has had the shots, who has not had the shots, so personally I hope we take that into consideration if a person wants to wear a mask.”

Anyone who prefers to wear a mask, Wood said, is welcome to do so. In accordance with Cooper’s latest executive order, mask use still is required at healthcare facilities, emergency medical services, HART drivers and passengers, the county detention center and the jetport.