Highlands maintains mask requirement in commercial district

The Town Board decided wearing a mask in the commercial district of Highlands should remain a requirement despite the relaxed requirements by Gov. Cooper at April’s town board meeting on April 15.

The decision comes after N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper eased restrictions throughout the state on March 23, and mask restrictions will be relaxed even more on April 30 when Gov. Cooper’s newest order goes into effect. Mayor Pat Taylor suggested the issue should be revisited.

He said he spoke with Highlands-Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal and discussed lifting the requirement and Neal was not in favor.

“After speaking with Tom about changing the mask requirement, he said we have not won this war, the battle is not over,” said Taylor. “He did not recommend lifting the mask policy.”

Commissioner Amy Patterson said the sidewalks downtown were too small to maintain social distancing.

“You can’t maintain social distance on our sidewalks anyway, and the CDC says you should still wear a mask if you can’t socially distance,” said Patterson.

Commissioner Stiehler agreed to maintain the requirement.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Stiehler.

No vote was necessary as there was no policy change.

After the decision to maintain the mask requirement, Taylor introduced Robin Austin from the Highlands Cashiers Plateau Vaccination Initiative who updated the board on the progress of vaccinating the community through a number of volunteer-run clinics.

Austin said as of April 14, 30.8% of Macon County has been fully vaccinated, and 23.7% of Jackson County. She said the goal is to reach herd immunity on the plateau with 70-80% of people fully vaccinated.

She said there is currently a lull in people looking for vaccinations and she fears a wave of people from other states who don’t have access to vaccination clinics like here on the Plateau.

“We’re in a phase where not as many people are getting vaccinated and we’re waiting for this influx of people from other states who aren’t taking it seriously,” said Austin. “We’re going to be in danger.”

Austin said reasons people may not get vaccinated is they are afraid they’ll get sick and have to miss work, many young people don’t want to receive it, or some people don’t care.

HCPVI has been reaching out to local businesses and churches encouraging them to have their employees and congregations vaccinated. Austin said the idea was discussed of posting local businesses who have had employees vaccinated on social media to encourage business owners to get involved, but nothing has been decided.

She asked the board for permission to post signs in town encouraging people to get vaccinated and the board voted unanimously to support their efforts by allowing them to do so.

Austin said she would discuss signage with Neal and be in touch with the board.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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