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The essentials...

Actionable + hyperlocal news to know:

COVID-19 case rates in Wake County continue to drop but remain high by CDC benchmarks.

The context: Local mask mandates will lift Friday.
This is the fifth week that case rates have decreased and the third week that the percentage of tests that are positive decreased.

The CDC’s community transmission risk decreased again to about 234 cases per 100,000 people. This 7-day rate was 514 cases/100,000 people last week. This case rate is still considered high. [levels, explained]  
The state numbers for Wake County’s 14-day case rate decreased, is now at 598 cases per 100,000 people. Last week the case rate was 1,031 cases per 100,000 people.

The percentage of tests that are positive in Wake County decreased to 10.5% this week from 14.3% last week, a 14-day metric.

Congregate living facility outbreaks decreased by four new outbreaks to 54 outbreaks in Wake County after a trend of increases week over week. These outbreak sites include nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This is considered a lagging, or later, indicator of community spread.

Childcare and K-12 clusters decreased to 6 clusters.

Deaths from COVID-19 have now surpassed 1,000 people in Wake County since the start of the pandemic. Wake County deaths hit this grim milestone in the last week, with now 1,009 COVID-19-related deaths.

😷 Local mask mandates change

Local governments and public schools announced mask policy changes in the last week.
Masks will no longer be required by the City of Raleigh indoors beginning 5 p.m. Friday (Feb. 25). 

Wake County and the towns of Garner, Knightdale, Rolesville and Zebulon also announced last week that their existing mask mandates will lift at 5 p.m. Friday.

Morrisville announced later, Wednesday, that the town will also roll back its mandate in line with the other Wake County municipalities. Cary lifted its mask mandate in late October and other municipalities did not have mask mandates in place. 

Businesses and employers may still make their own mask policies. 
🍎Wake County Public Schools will make masks optional beginning March 7, possibly earlier if state lawmakers take action, the school system shared in an email to families Tuesday.

Masks are optional for athletic events now and for extra curricular activities beginning 5 p.m. Friday. Masks are still required on buses because of federal rules.

📊 More numbers, links + analysis: []

Raleigh Convergence has analyzed local-level data for Wake County for the last 94 weeks. [become a member to support hyperlocal journalism like this!]
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Local idea: 
A new kind of food hall launches in Knightdale

Craften is a new concept: the variety of a food hall with the hospitality of a full-service restaurant.

Opened this month by co-founders Max Trujillo and Kip Downer, the Knightdale location is the first of two announced so far. The second will be in Clayton, a growing town in nearby Johnston County.

About the people: Max is a hospitality industry veteran and one of the hosts of the NC Food & Beverage podcast, while Kip is the owner of several Burn Boot Camp gyms in the Triangle area, including one next to Craften in Knightdale.

Why Knightdale: "My partner Kip already owned a building in Knightdale and had dreams of opening a food hall in Knightdale for years," Max said.

"But towns like Knightdale are where want to be. It’s where people live and that’s where we can create a great local neighborhood vibe."

We tried out the new concept to see how this new food hall idea works: []


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👩🏽‍🍳Food award semifinalists: Several Raleigh area chefs are semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southeast. In Raleigh, Oscar Diaz of Cortez, Sunny Gerhart of St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar and Cheetie Kumar of Garland are semifinalists. Zooming out to the Triangle, Durham’s Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint is also on the prestigious list. [WRAL]

🧁The Sweetest Things is now open at MacGregor Square in Cary. The Black woman-owned bakery sells classic desserts such as cupcakes, bars, pound cakes, cookies and more, including some gluten free options. The location at 1881 Lake Pine Drive is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 12-6 p.m. Sundays. [@thesweetestthingsnc]

🏐 A major indoor sports and recreation center is being planned for the South Hills Mall & Plaza site in Cary.
  • The big picture: It's part of a regional strategic goal to attract new youth, collegiate, amateur and professional sporting events to the region. 
  • The experts say: Visit Raleigh quotes Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, as saying it's "the one piece that has been missing in our sports venue inventory." 
  • Made for esports: The center is planned with esports in mind as well as athletics. A portion of the competitive space could transform into a "4,000-seat arena for championship games, e-gaming tournaments, and non-athletic performances."
  • The site is also news; the original location discussed was the former Cary Towne Center, which was purchased by Epic Games for its new global headquarters. This location will be close to the I-40 and I-440 near Cary Crossroads on Buck Jones Road. 
Read more about The Center in the RFP submitted by the Town of Cary this month. 🎮
A sign of spring: The season may not change until next month, but you can see a ribbon of daffodils in bloom and the Downtown Raleigh skyline at Dix Park now. Navigate to the Flower Cottage and see the flowers in the field behind it. Parking details + more: [] 📸: 
Raleigh jobs: 

Post a job for $30 on our jobs board + for inclusion in this section. [post]

Submissions must be received by 8 a.m. Monday to run the following Thursday. 
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This is a maternity leave edition, publishing weekly on Thursdays. Read more in a previous column: []
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