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State updates mask guidelines for schools

According to updated public health guidance unveiled Wednesday by Gov. Roy Cooper and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state is now recommending that schools require all unvaccinated K-8 students and staff to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. The updated recommendations also call for schools to require unvaccinated high school students and staff to wear masks indoors.

The updated StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit is aligned with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The most important work our state will do next month is getting all our school children back into the classrooms safely for in-person learning,” Cooper said. “That’s the best way for them to learn, and we want their school days to be as close to normal as possible, especially after a year of disruption.”

The updated guidance is effective July 30. School administrators and their respective local health departments are responsible for implementing protocols in the toolkit.

The statewide mask mandate is set to expire on the same day the updated recommendations take effect.

“When Executive Order 220 expires at the end of July, North Carolina businesses and other entities where masks are required will make their own decisions about requiring masks, with strong guidance provided by NCDHHS,” a press release from Cooper’s office reads. “Everyone, regardless of vaccine status, should still wear a mask in certain places such as public transportation and healthcare facilities.”

No COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children younger than 12 years old. Anyone ages 12-17 can receive Pfizer’s vaccine. Anyone 18 and older can receive the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“Get vaccinated right now if you haven’t.  We are seeing the impact of the very contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and it’s hitting those who are unvaccinated hard,” Cohen said. “Schools need to use the additional safety protocols outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit to continue to protect students and staff as we enter the new school year.”

To date, North Carolina has administered more than 9.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 56% of the adult population fully vaccinated. 60% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 86% of people 65 and over.

In Beaufort County, 12.1% of the age group 12-17 had been at least partially vaccinated and 8.6% had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.