Two of Charlotte’s biggest employers are now requiring all employees wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
Starting Monday, both Lowe’s and Duke Energy implemented mask requirements for employees when indoors.
The news comes following updated mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state health officials. Following a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant, the CDC recommended that even vaccinated people should wear masks in public spaces indoors.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper last week encouraged all residents to follow the mask guidelines and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“After months of low numbers, our trends are turning sharply in the wrong direction,” he said. “I want to be clear about why: Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick.”
Cooper said he would begin requiring state employees at cabinet agencies to show proof of vaccination and will require regular COVID-19 tests and mask-wearing for unvaccinated employees. The new requirement for cabinet agencies begins Sept. 1.
And Cooper recommended other businesses require the same.
Plans for Lowe’s
Lowe’s, based in Mooresville, plans to bring workers back to offices in early October, spokeswoman Maureen Wallace told the Observer in an email.
The home improvement company has more than 6,000 employees at its Mooresville headquarters.
Effective Monday, Lowe’s employees are required to wear masks indoors at all U.S. locations and while working in a customer’s home or business, Wallace said.
Lowe’s stores will encourage customers to wear masks and provide free masks to customers on request, she said.
And Lowe’s rival, Atlanta-based Home Depot, is requiring all employees, contractors and vendors to wear masks indoors at stores, distribution centers, offices and customer’s homes or businesses as of Monday too.
About 90% of Duke Energy office workers are still working remotely, spokesman Neil Nissan told the Observer in an email.
The company has about 6,000 employees in the Charlotte area, with 27,500 total workers spread out over seven states, he said.
In June, Duke Energy brought less than 100 office employees back to its uptown facilities, part of a plan to transition employees back to the office in phases.
And the company plans to bring the majority of its office employees back to the office in phases starting in September, timed to coincide with the school year, Nissan said.
As of Monday, masks are required for all employees indoors, he said.
Duke Energy does not track or verify vaccination status, but the company is considering options for future tracking in order to relax mask restrictions for vaccinated employees if recommendations are changed, Nissan said.
Other Charlotte mandates
The new masks requirements from Lowe’s and Duke Energy follow mask and vaccine mandates from other Charlotte businesses.
Charlotte-area hospital systems Atrium Health and Novant Health both announced new vaccine requirements for all employees in late July.
Atrium Health will require all workers — including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, medical staff, students, temporary workers and volunteer staff — to get vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption by Oct. 31.
And Novant Health will require the same for all of its employees, contractors, vendors and students by Sept. 15.
Other Charlotte area businesses are already requiring masks indoors too, including The Evening Muse in NoDa. And the Mecklenburg County Courthouse began requiring masks indoors starting this week.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders say they’ll enforce universal masks for students and teachers when classroom reopen later this month.
Charlotte COVID-19 trends
The new CDC guidelines apply to all areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.
That includes vast swaths of North Carolina, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker. In fact, not a single North Carolina county had a low level of community transmission.
Mecklenburg County has “high” community transmission, the worst level on the CDC’s tracker.
And Mecklenburg’s COVID-19 trends are all moving in the wrong direction, according to local health officials.
Mecklenburg’s daily case counts, positivity rate and hospitalizations are all increasing, according to the county’s weekly data release.