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‘We have to pull together’: N.C. governor recommends mask-wearing in schools, masks for everyone in high-risk counties

Health officials say 80 percent of North Carolina’s counties, including Mecklenburg County, are at high risk.
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 10:56 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 4:08 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued new recommendations, following up on the CDC’s new guidelines.

Cooper, like the CDC says, strongly encourages people to wear masks indoors, no matter their vaccination status, in high-transmission areas.

According to the CDC, high-transmission areas are “based on two metrics: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive in a seven-day period.”

Health officials say 80 percent of North Carolina’s counties, including Mecklenburg County, are at high risk.

On Thursday, North Carolina reported more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases, which are the state’s most single-day reported cases since February.

The governor says that most of the new cases, plus the rapid spread of the Delta variant, are being transmitted by non-vaccinated people.

“Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick,” Cooper said.

Cooper also recommends that schools require masking for students kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “If you are not vaccinated, you are at great risk.”

Cooper also addressed on Thursday how vaccinated people should feel in regard to the unvaccinated in North Carolina.

More than 55 percent of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated in North Carolina, while 57 percent of people 18 and older are fully vaccinated in North Carolina.

“We are all in this together,” Cooper said. “I understand the frustration and anger the vaccinated people feel, partially now, with the spike and the inconvenience and sickness and death that comes with it. We all have to pull together to do this.”

Cooper, on Thursday, issued an Executive Order that 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.

“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.”

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that even vaccinated people should be wearing masks indoors in places of high transmission of COVID-19.

The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the U.S. with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. That includes 60 percent of U.S. counties, officials said.

Cooper and state health leaders are urging people to get vaccinated.

Some areas in North Carolina, including Mecklenburg County, fall into a category of an area with a high level of transmission.

“Get a vaccine now to protect you and prevent future variants like delta that emerge to threaten our health and economic recovery,” Cooper said.

But Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said she would not be putting a mask mandate in place for now, even though she supports the CDC’s recommendation and strongly encourages people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors.

“Individuals are getting milder cases, so vaccinations are working,” Harris said. “However, those individuals, if have a breakthrough case, they may still be spreading the virus. That’s one of the reasons we are asking them to wear masks.”

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

This has been a hot topic around the country and locally as multiple counties are voting on whether to require masks indoors or make it optional on whether students choose to wear a mask or not in the classroom.

Gov. Cooper has already issued guidance that schools with students in kindergarten through eighth grade should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The governor also said schools with students in 9th through 12th grades should ensure that anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated, including students, wear a mask indoors.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will have a special meeting on Friday morning to talk about whether or not they will require masks in schools. Several other school districts in our area have already had these meetings.

Gibbie Harris also agreed with the CDC in this regard when it comes to schools.

She provided a recommendation to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that all students and staff wear masks in schools, especially those between kindergarten and 8th-grade.

In May, Gov. Cooper lifted all mandatory capacity and gathering limits, social distancing requirements and most mandatory mask requirements.

The governor kept mandatory indoor mask requirements in place on public transportation, in child care, in prisons and in certain public health settings.

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