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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Cooper Lets Remaining Mask Rules Fade As NC COVID Cases Spike; Urges Residents And Schools To Follow CDC Guidance

Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to give an update on North Carolina's response to the pandemic Thursday.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety
Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to give an update on North Carolina's response to the pandemic Thursday.

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."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

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."

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, top left, said COVID-19 infections have risen in recent weeks, driven largely by the delta variant.
N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, top left, said COVID-19 infections have risen in recent weeks, driven largely by the delta variant.

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.

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."

Read Cooper's latest executive order here and a question-and-answer sheet here.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.
Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.
Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.