RALEIGH, N.C. (WAVY) — North Carolina state leaders recommend districts require all students and teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade to wear masks indoors when they return to the classroom next month.
Unvaccinated teachers and students at the high school level will are recommended to mask up as well.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and State Health Secretary Mandy Cohen announced the news on Wednesday, as the state reported more than 1,400 new cases and 694 people in the hospital as the delta variant spreads.
When asked about enforcement, Cooper didn’t offer specifics but said there will be a collective push to get schools to follow the guidance. The guidelines are outlined in a tool kit sent to school districts. It’s up to the districts to decide on the final protocols.
The guidance cuts off at 8th grade because there’s a mix of children who are eligible in middle school, Cohen says. She’s hoping the incentive to take off masks will encourage high schoolers to get vaccinated. Only 24% of those ages 12-17 in North Carolina are vaccinated.
“That’s way too low,” Cohen said. Both she and Cooper emphasized vaccines will be the key to containing the virus and reducing sickness and death. About 94% of cases and hospitalizations are in those who are not vaccinated, they said. About 60% of North Carolinian adults have at least one dose.
Cohen says high schools may still require universal masking at the high school, for example if they think their current vaccination rate is too low.
The news comes the same day Virginia announced it would leave mask policies up to local districts.
The state also adjusted guidelines for social distancing, recommending students and staff stay three feet apart instead of six.
Updates were made for those exposed to COVID -19 as well.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated and does not have symptoms does not have to quarantine after a close contact with someone who has covid-19,” explained Dr. Cohen. “In addition, unvaccinated students do not have to quarantine after close contact if students were appropriately and consistently wearing masks.”
Dr. Cohen and Governor Cooper said guidelines are likely to change as the school year progresses and vaccines become available for children.