Raleigh, NC The mandate for the state mask for North Carolina’s schools ends next week, but officials said Wednesday they would like to see masks remain in place in elementary and middle schools and for all unvaccinated high school students and staff.
Gov. Roy Cooper said he will let the mandate expire on July 30, when the current state of emergency ends. Instead of the mandate, the state Department of Health and Human Services issued an updated toolbox on Wednesday, which schools must follow to limit the spread of coronavirus as more students return to class state in the coming weeks.
“We want their school day to be back to as normal as possible, especially after the annual disruption they just had,” Cooper said at a news conference.
The updated guidance recommends that schools continue to require masks indoors in Class K-8 because most of the students are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Masks indoors are also required for all unvaccinated high school students, staff and visitors.
“We want to show that when you are vaccinated, you are able to take off your mask, and we hope that it will be an additional incentive for our high school students to be vaccinated,” said DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Less than a quarter of students ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated in the state, Cohen said, calling that rate “too low.”
“This means that 75 percent of most colleges, if not more, will be completely unvaccinated,” she said. “Must get vaccines. [That’s the] Nr. 1 absolute prevention, and if not, make sure people wear masks. “
State officials reported Wednesday that 60 percent of adults 18 years or older have received at least one vaccine dose, while 56 percent are fully vaccinated.
Cooper acknowledged that while the new guidance strongly encourages who should wear masks in schools, there is no way to enforce it and there are no consequences for districts that decide to drop masks completely indoors.
Parents have avoided the state mandate for several months, and lawmakers even drafted legislation that would exclude it for the 2021-22 school year, leaving the decision on whether or not to require masks in classrooms to local school boards.
“There will be a big push across the state … to try to make sure this is in place because we know how important it is to make sure these children are protected and that teachers are protected,” he said. he. “We all know what to do. We all need to make sure we try to get it done.”
State Inspector for Public Instruction Catherine Truitt praised the move, saying she prefers to give local school leaders more flexibility.
“The decision on mask mandates must be made by those who are most consistent with their students’ populations and know that superintendents, parents and school boards will act in the interests of their students,” Truitt said in a statement.
But the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, immediately panned the administration’s shift to masks in schools, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups have called for continued mask requirements.
“In light of the dramatic rise of COVID infections among unvaccinated North Carolina people over the past few weeks due to the Delta variant … this appears to be a very poorly timed decision,” NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement. “Our youngest students are still months away from being vaccinated and they are uniquely vulnerable to this more virulent strain of COVID. We continue to urge all unvaccinated individuals to get their shots and wear masks whenever possible to protect themselves. myself and others against this ongoing and still highly contagious pandemic. “
North Carolina reported 1,434 more coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the highest total day in more than two months.
The state has topped 1,000 cases in five days in the past week, and the seven-day average of 1,043 cases a day has risen 60 percent in the past week and has nearly tripled in two weeks.
Across the country, nearly 700 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19, with about 200 in intensive care. The number of virus-related cases in hospitals has increased by 43 percent from a week ago, while the number at the ICU has increased by 79 percent.
Cohen said officials may need to “revise” the requirements for the school mask if coronavirus trends continue in the wrong direction, and “we see that our school districts are not keeping our children safe.”
Durham Public Schools will continue to require everyone to disguise themselves in class in the coming school year, regardless of vaccination status, district spokesman Chip Sudderth said. But the school board will review its pandemic protocols at an Aug. 10 session, he added.
Millbrook High School Principal Dana King said her biggest concern is how her staff will enforce the rules, noting that it is unclear whether schools may require students to show vaccination cards.
“I have each student’s vaccination record uploaded in their file. I know when they got the measles [or] mumps. Why not just put it on it? Said King.
But without proof of vaccination, she said colleges need to rely on students to be honest about whether they need to wear a mask or not, and that prospect concerns many teachers.
“I had four teachers last year who refused to come in because they were scared,” she said. “I think two of the four will either step down or find out something, but it’s a real terror for some people – the idea of being around masked people.”
Wake County School Board Chairman Keith Sutton agreed that it will be difficult to enforce the rules.
“Some verifications would be helpful. It puts our staff, our schools, our principals in a difficult position if we just go word of mouth,” Sutton said. “Our staff and legal counsel are working on it and will provide us with further guidance and we will make our decision based on this information and recommendation.”
Alicia Wheatley, a teacher at Leesville Road High School, said she hopes the district encourages all students to wear masks to school.
“I am concerned about ensuring that our schools are safe and healthy for all our students. I want to see students continue to wear masks, ”Wheatley said. “I plan to be there as long as I can, as surely as I can.”
King said she is concerned that having classrooms full of unvaccinated teens will lead to another shutdown and return to distance learning.
“It’s hard to run beyond this thing,” she said.