RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) did not issue any new requirements to wear masks Wednesday as state health officials said North Carolina is seeing the fastest acceleration of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
Cooper and Health and Human Services Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen reiterated their call for school districts that have made masks optional to change their decision and follow the state health guidelines to require masks for all people in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.
However, he is not mandating them to take that step.
“I think you get more effective buy-in when it is done at the local level and decisions are being made at the local level, particularly with all the knowledge that we have,” he said.
State officials say more than 75 percent of public school students are in district that have made masks mandatory. Some of them have reversed their decision to make them optional.
“Particularly concerned about masks in our schools, particularly with children that can’t even be vaccinated yet. But, I am encouraged by the fact that system after system is rethinking this,” Cooper said.
The issue of masking in schools has led to fiery school board meetings in communities across North Carolina as local leaders make decisions on how to operate as students return for in-person learning amid the surge in cases fueled by the delta variant. Some parents have pushed to be able to make the decision themselves as to whether their kids should have to wear masks.
“We are experiencing the fastest acceleration in cases since the pandemic started,” Dr. Mandy Cohen said.
Cooper’s update on the pandemic came as the federal government announced Wednesday that booster shots will be available to people who got the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines beginning the week of Sept. 20.
People will be eligible eight months after receiving their second dose.
Initially, health care workers, people in nursing homes and seniors will be among the first to become eligible for a third shot.
“I think people need to be patient,” said Dr. Ritesh Patel, a pharmacist with Eastern Carolina Medical Center. “We’ve got to get ramped up and get ready for bigger clinics again more than likely.”
Patel has helped coordinate vaccination events throughout the year.
“I hope that the counties and DHHS do the right thing in getting the vaccine out to all the willing providers,” he said. “I think we’re able to learn from those earlier-on larger clinic sites where there were four or five-hour lines and be able to get to multiple different locations in the same area.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state has been making plans for a variety of scenarios and is seeking additional guidance from the federal government, including whether there will be any changes to the order in which people receive the vaccine.
With improved supply and more providers able to administer the vaccines, she doesn’t anticipate mass vaccination sites on the scale of what was in place earlier this year.
“I think we’re in a different place than we were at the beginning where we have a much more robust pharmacy program in terms of being able to vaccinate as well as doctor’s offices now,” she said.