Cooper Lets Remaining Mask Rules Fade As NC COVID Cases Spike; Urges Residents And Schools To Follow CDC Guidance
Updated 4:25 p.m.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says he will allow the state’s remaining mask restrictions to end Friday even as COVID-19 infections are spiking. But he also urged residents and school districts to follow updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about wearing masks inside and said some state employees will have to verify vaccine status or undergo regular testing and wear masks.
"Schools know what to do. Businesses know what to do. People know what to do," Cooper said, addressing why he wasn't extending or rolling back mask rules. "We are encouraging everyone to wear masks per the CDC guidelines, but we know the real way out of this is vaccines."
Cooper, who wore a mask when he wasn't speaking Thursday, addressed coronavirus numbers and the new CDC recommendations for vaccinated people to resume wearing face masks in areas of high community spread.
The state updated its school safety guidelines Thursday to match the CDC recommendation that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors. State rules posted last week said that in grades 9-12 only unvaccinated people should be required to wear masks.
Cooper said he encouraged school districts to follow that guidance and hopes districts that have approved mask-optional policies will reconsider. But he stopped short of ordering them to require masks in classrooms.
"Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence."
On Thursday, North Carolina reported 3,268 new coronavirus cases and a 9.3% test-positivity rate. Additionally, 1,141 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a sharp increase from 393 just a month ago.
"Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick," Cooper said Thursday. "People who are unvaccinated make up most all of our cases where people are getting sick and hospitalized."
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the recent spike in hospitalizations for COVID-19 was "the fastest increase we've seen since the pandemic started."
Cohen encouraged people in counties with high rates of COVID-19 spread to wear masks in some indoor situations. She said being careful was especially important for unvaccinated residents — and encouraged them to wear masks and practice social distancing.
She said "nearly every case" was the delta variant, and noted that previously, a person on average would spread COVID-19 to two or three people but that delta was more contagious.
"The delta variant spreads from one person to an average of six people, and almost all of that spread is happening among people who are not vaccinated," Cohen said of recent cases in the state.
Currently, 57% of North Carolina's adult population is fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
This Executive Order directs state government cabinet agencies to verify whether their employees are vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees will be tested at least once a week and required to wear a mask.— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) July 29, 2021
Cooper said he was ordering employees working for cabinet-level agencies in the state to show proof of vaccination status. Those who don't will have to wear masks, social distance at work and undergo weekly COVID-19 screening tests, Cooper said.
That order covers about 50,000 people but does not extend to teachers and other school-based state employees. Cooper said he hopes local school boards will make similar moves, along with other agencies and businesses.
It's a decision that virtually mirrors President Biden's new policy for federal employees. Cooper said he doesn't have the authority to enforce the policy in state agencies that aren't represented by members of his cabinet.
"We are strongly urging other state government agencies and private businesses to, at a minimum, do the same," Cooper said. "Many businesses are going a step further and requiring their employees to get vaccinated, and I applaud that... Right now, being a corporate citizen means getting your people vaccinated."