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Gov. Cooper amends state guidance, says all K-12 students and staff should wear masks

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Gov. Roy Cooper adjusted the state’s recommendations on masking in K-12 schools on Thursday, July 29. He said the new guidance now aligns with that recently issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that all students and staff in K-12 schools should wear masks whether they’re vaccinated or not.

As for the multiple districts around the state whose school boards have voted to make masks optional, Cooper said he hoped they would take a closer look at the incidence of COVID-19 in their districts before persisting in allowing students to choose not to wear masks.

“I’m going to ask some of these schools boards … to look at this again,” he said, adding, “Think about the danger your students could face.”

In a press conference last week, Cooper announced that the statewide mask mandate would expire at the end of July and all students and staff in grades K-8 should wear masks. In high school, he said only the unvaccinated should wear masks.

Since that announcement, the CDC issued new guidance as a result of the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19. Cooper’s new recommendations on school masking Thursday were a response to the CDC’s guidance. They are just recommendations, however. The mask mandate is still expiring at the end of July.

A new report from the ABC Science Collaborative at the Duke University School of Medicine found that “North Carolina schools did an outstanding job preventing within-school transmission of COVID‐19,” and one of the reasons for that was mask wearing in schools.

“Proper masking is the most effective mitigation strategy to prevent secondary transmission in schools when COVID-19 is circulating and when vaccination is unavailable, or there is insufficient uptake,” the report states.

The North Carolina Association of Educators praised Cooper in a statement today.

“On behalf of our students and educators we thank Governor Cooper for taking these commonsense steps to keep all North Carolinians as safe as possible from this increasingly dangerous Delta variant,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “The health and safety of our students is paramount for educators. Today’s actions make it easier for all of us to be safe inside and outside of the classroom.” 

While he wasn’t referring specifically to the CDC’s guidance on schools, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, did criticize the CDC’s mask recommendation in a press release sent out today.

The press release said the “whiplash on mask ‘guidance'” could actually make people less likely to get vaccinated. The press release referenced President Joe Biden saying a few months ago that fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear a mask.

“Two months later, the CDC is saying the opposite,” the press release stated. “That erodes credibility, and risks undermining and distracting from the far more important message on vaccines.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.