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County’s new COVID-19 cases starting to trend upward

Beaufort County’s COVID-19 numbers are starting to trend in the same direction as the state’s metrics — and that’s not a good sign heading into Thanksgiving weekend.

The county recorded 29 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, its fourth-largest total to date. The county’s daily case counts had been trending downward ever since a small wave of cases happened in mid-September, but that has changed within the past week. Beaufort County reported 17 new cases last weekend, 19 cases on Monday and 13 cases on Tuesday.

The state’s daily case count has been trending upward since early November; 4,212 COVID-19 cases were reported statewide on Wednesday.

“We need to be aware that we’re seeing an increase in numbers just like the state has been seeing,” Beaufort County Health Department Director Jim Madson said Wednesday. “This is typical, for us to fall two or three weeks behind the metropolitan areas, and the data is starting to show it.”

Trends in statewide coronavirus metrics have concerned Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration — so much so that Cooper on Monday announced a new executive order that tightened the state’s mask requirements. That order, which went into effect Wednesday, adds additional circumstances in which people are required to wear face coverings in public places. The mask requirement now extends to any indoor public space, even when social distancing measures are in place, as well as gyms, public and private schools, and all public or private transportation when travelling with people outside of the same household. The order requires businesses that occupy more than 15,000 square feet to have an employee stationed near entrances checking to make sure patrons are wearing masks and implementing occupancy limits.

Local law enforcement can enforce the mask mandate. In late June, when Cooper first issued an executive order mandating the wearing of face masks in public, Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman said in a statement that members of his office would not enforce the order.

However, if an individual feels uncomfortable going into an environment where sanitation and social distancing cannot be maintained, by all means use sanitizer and/or wear a mask,” the statement read. “Also, common sense should dictate that if you feel ANY symptoms you should wear a mask for the protection of others or better yet stay home.”

Madson said his department would send out letters reminding businesses of the executive orders if they receive complaints.

“But as far as enforcement goes,” Madson added, “that’s up to the law.”