Shed your masks,but keep respectfor others intact

Now, we can take off our masks, a significant step forward in strange times that will see many faces come out of hibernation on a public scale.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this week that those who are fully vaccinated can safely engage in most activities without wearing a mask or social distance from others, many states — equipped with their own metrics informing their decisions — took the next logical step forward. On Friday, North Carolina was one of them.

The announcement from Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D., was short and to the point. And immediately put in effect.

The state has removed its indoor mask mandate for most settings, while lifting all mass gathering limits and social distancing requirements. The move was effective at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Cooper cited a scientific approach, one based on metrics the entire way. There were setbacks over the preceding months — Sampson had one of the highest case rates in the state per capita for weeks, so we knew those well — but this week seemed to spell a breakthrough.

We are optimistic, after some 14 months of a pandemic, that it is just that.

Cooper and Cohen urged vaccinations to continue, crediting the ability to lift restrictions sooner than anticipated as evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine.

To date, the state has administered over 7.7 million doses, with more than half of those 18 years and older in North Carolina being at least partially vaccinated, and some 46% percent achieving full vaccination status.

NCDHHS officials said they will continue to strongly recommend individuals to continue to protect one another until more people are vaccinated. People who are not vaccinated should wear a mask and maintain distance in all indoor public settings and in outdoor settings when they can’t maintain six feet of distance, health officials said. Masks are still strongly recommended for everyone at large crowded indoor events like sporting events and live performances.

The health agency urged businesses to offer reminders for social distancing and face coverings to those who are not fully vaccinated. They may also continue to require that their customers wear masks, the NCDHHS stated.

That said, Sampson has made tremendous strides, so let’s not make this great news a cause for division.

According to NCDHHS report this week, Sampson’s 14-day case rate for the two-week period of April 25 to May 8 was 229.8 per 100,000 people, down considerably from the 343.1 rate in the April 29 report. The 14-day percent-positive in Sampson stood at 4.7% under the new report, down from the 6.8% in the April 29 report. The county’s cases were deemed to have a “minimal impact” on local hospitals, and deaths due to the virus have plateaued in the past month.

That is a massive improvement.

In Sampson, close to one in four people are now fully vaccinated, trending well behind the state. That number is still moving, but is not likely to get anywhere near the North Carolina average, based on early indications. Let’s be proud of our progress and take these developments for what they are: positive.

Be smart. If you want to wear a mask, wear one. If you don’t, according to Cooper, the mandate lifting means you are no longer required to do so in many instance, save a few exceptions. While the mask mandate has been in place in North Carolina, many businesses in Sampson have placed notices on the door urging people to wear masks, but not stopping them if they come in without one.

That goes both ways. As we enter a new COVID environment, some may choose to make mask-wearing a regular occurrence, also well within their rights. Save the shame and ridicule. Observe each other’s boundaries, just as you did pre-COVID.

We are moving forward. We should do that while still protecting and respecting one another.