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CDC updates school mask guidance, some N.C. parents want lawmakers to go one step further

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The CDC now says people who are vaccinated do not have to wear masks in school settings. The government health agency updated its guidance Friday morning.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order still requires masks be worn in school settings regardless of vaccination status. The executive order is set to expire at the end of July, unless Governor Cooper extends or changes it.

Governor Cooper and NCDHHS Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have said previously they would reconsider the mask mandate if the CDC updated its guidance. A spokesperson for NCDHHS shared this statement with WBTV on relaxing the mask mandate in schools:

“We still have a large number of North Carolinians who are unvaccinated, many of whom are children. We need to prioritize protecting the children who have either not yet had the chance to be vaccinated, or are not yet eligible due to being under 12 years old. People who have not yet gotten their vaccine need to continue to wear a mask and keep their distance from other people to slow the spread of the virus and variants, until they are able to get vaccinated. The CDC continues to recommend that those who are unvaccinated wear a mask indoors, which includes the vast majority of K-12 students. All three COVID-19 vaccines we have in North Carolina are tested, safe and effective at protecting against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

“Vaccines are the best way we can all safely get back to the people, places and activities we love. Just this morning we sent out a press release urging all North Carolinians to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases have increased throughout the state. Variants, including the new Delta variant, are a major concern for people who aren’t vaccinated as many variants are more easily transmitted and some cause more severe disease. The currently available COVID vaccines are the best protection against the virus and its variants.

“More information on vaccines can be found at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines and a vaccination finder can be found at https://www.vaccines.gov/search/. The CDC’s updated guidance continues to recommend that unvaccinated persons continue to wear masks in schools as well as other settings that serve children including child care and camps. We will continue to look at the data to guide our decisions, and are currently evaluating the CDC’s updated guidance.”

Some North Carolina parents and lawmakers are pushing the state to relax the mask mandate even further. Jennifer Rea is the parent of a rising 5th grader in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She started a petition on change.org to give parents the option of sending their child to school with or without a mask.

“The longer we go I just feel like it’s more and more extreme to require this, especially for children,” Rea said. “I totally understand that some parents would want to continue masking their children. I think everyone should be able to weigh the risk, benefits for themselves. For me, I don’t think the medical risk outweigh the social and emotional risk of continue put a mask on her for 6 to 7 hours a day.”

Rea’s petition has gained more than 200 signatures in less than 24 hours.

“Masking for whatever reason has become a political issue and I don’t think there is anything political about it. But I think people are afraid to voice their opinion about it, but I think a lot of people feel strongly about it. So, I just thought this was a way people could show their support and exercise their voice and share their opinion in a comfortable way,” Rea said of the petition.

North Carolina State Representative David Willis (R-Union County) sponsored the Free the Smiles bill in the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill would give school district’s the power to decide whether masks would be required. He too believes it should be a personal choice.

“I’ve talked to a number of school boards across the state and the way they would go about doing that is making it parental choice. They aren’t going to force anyone to wear a mask. They aren’t going to prevent anyone from wearing a mask,” Willis explained.

The NC House approved the bill on June 23. Willis says the Senate is currently reworking the language of the bill. He expects them to revisit it in the coming weeks.

If approved, Willis says the bill will supersede Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order that mandates masks in schools despite vaccination status.

“There is a provision in the bill that would allow the governor to react on a school by school basis if there was a significant outbreak at a specific school, he would be able to go ahead and require masks,” Willis explained.

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