Gov. Cooper, NCDHHS release COVID-19 protocols for schools, urging students K-8 grade to wear masks


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)– As COVID-19 cases in North Carolina continue to increase, Gov. Roy Cooper has announced strong protocols for schools amid the pandemic.

The Executive Order on mask mandates will expire at the end of the month, but Cooper said he has outlined strong protocols that are recommended for schools to follow.

“Studies have shown that masks can slow the spread of this virus among those who are unvaccinated – that hasn’t changed. We know masks work. The health, safety and ability of our students to learn in person depends on school leaders following this guidance,” Cooper said.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that schools for K-8 grade should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

For 9 through 12 graders, schools should make sure those who are not vaccinated wear a mask indoors, Cohen said.

“With only 24 percent of North Carolinians ages 12 to 17 fully vaccinated, and because anyone under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated yet, we still have a long way to go,” Cohen said.

In the toolkit, the state also outlined new COVID-19 quarantine guidance.

“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. In addition, unvaccinated students do not have to quarantine after close-contact if students were appropriately and consistently wearing masks,” Cohen said.

The toolkit also has measures regarding social distancing, COVID-19 testing, cleaning, transportation guidance and more.

Cohen said the toolkit also took out a number of protocols that don’t have benefits so schools can focus on what works.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance this month to say that fully vaccinated students and teachers do not have to wear masks. However, on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own recommendations, calling for masks regardless of vaccination status.

As part of the state’s public health toolkit, masks are currently required for everyone in schools age five and older unless an exception applies.

Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill aiming to block Gov. Roy Cooper (D) from issuing a statewide mask mandate for schools, instead leaving the decision to local school boards.

A handful of members of the House and Senate have been meeting recently to draft a compromise version of the bill to vote out of the legislature, but they say they are awaiting a decision by Cooper and state health officials regarding the upcoming school year.

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