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Commissioners urge Cooper to end mask orders, other Covid-related restrictions

Henderson County has significant improvement on the Covid-19 front, with manageable case rates and hospitalizations, a reliable supply of vaccine doses and a big drop in the demand for shots.

"We no longer have a wait list number because we no longer have a wait list," Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie told the county Board of Commissioners Wednesday. "If folks want a vaccine today they can get a vaccination." The chart also no longer noted the weekly allocation from the state because "by and large, what we want we can now get from the state. Last week, we had walkup people at the clinic."

This week cases were up to 20.7 per 100,000 people, up from a week earlier but down dramatically from 58.3 on Feb. 8. Pardee UNC Health and AdventHealth had a total of eight Covid patients on Wednesday; the peak was 60 on Jan. 4.

With the combined positive news and growing frustration with what they described as overly cautious government restrictions on business and schools, Henderson County commissioners voted unanimously to remove signs urging the use of masks from county facility entrances and voted to send Gov. Roy Cooper a letter exhorting him to drop executive orders on the use of masks and restrictions on businesses.

"We got a vaccination, we made provisions to get it to folks in the community, apparently we've done a pretty good job of getting it out there to all of those that want it and I agree with Commissioner McCall that it's not the government's role to demand that they have it."

All five commissioners sharply criticized the ongoing mask requirements — especially those in the state's public schools — declared that businesses ought to be able to operate as they please and signaled that advocacy for the public to get shots would not come from them.

Commissioner Rebecca McCall said the governor and the state's school administration should immediately drop the school mask requirement.

"I am pleading with our school system and our School Board to reach out to the governor and the school administration and request that children do not have to wear those mask for eight hours anymore. Mask are dehumanizing. They erase our facial expression. Some childen the only smile they get from their teacher."

She cited another statistic that 8.4 percent of the county's population had contracted Covid, with a recovery rate of 98.4 percent, and disclosed that she's not vaccinated.

"I choose not to be vaccinated and I think that's my right not to be vaccinated," she said, adding that her parents in their 90s also eschewed the Covid shot. "It's something people have to make a choice for themselves."

She pointed out that signs on county buildngs had from the start "encouraged" mask wearing instead of requiring it.

"I think it's time we take 'em down," she said. "If people want to continue to wear a mask they're free to do so. There are multiple reasons for not wearing a mask. There's allergies, there's asthma. ... The fact that people have been vaccinated and told they still have to wear a mask is illogical to me."

The board unanimously approved McCall's motion to remove the mask signs from county buildings, then voted to send a letter urging Gov. Roy Cooper to "terminate his executive orders related to masks, related to lockdowns or reduced hours related to businesses, and all those actions related to school activites ... at the earliest possible date, which as far as this board, could be tomorrow."

Commissioner David Hill said the letter also ought to point out that "Florida, Texas — the states that are opening up are doing great and he needs to realize his role as a governor and not a dictator ... and he needs to get his foot off the back of the neck of the economy and let people run their business.

Reinforcing the slowdown in the pace of vaccinations, Pardee announced Wednesday that it has begun to transition a mass community vaccination clinic model to a more streamlined direct-to-consumer model. Pardee will begin administering vaccines at its urgent care clinics and directly to employers this week, with all first doses transitioning immediately and second doses wrapping up at Blue Ridge Community College by May 6.  To schedule a vaccination appointment for a first dose, eligible community members are encouraged to visit

“With the recent decrease in demand for vaccines, coupled with an increase in supply and community vaccination options, the time has come for Pardee to shift our approach in order to better respond to the changing trends around vaccinations, while meeting consumer expectations of convenience and accessibility,” said David Ellis, Pardee's chief medical officer.

Pardee has operated a community vaccination clinic on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College since January.

“This vaccine clinic is a testament to innovation and collaboration at work," Ellis said. "Through the efforts of many partners, volunteers and health care professionals, Pardee has been able to manage the vaccination distribution for roughly 50 percent of the people currently vaccinated in Henderson County.”