In light of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Roy Cooper is asking schools to require masks among their students and staff for the upcoming school year.
“The pandemic is not behind us yet,” Cooper said during a press conference Wednesday. “The most important work our state will do in the next month is get all our students back into classroom learning.”
The new state guidance explains that schools should require masks indoors for students and staff of grades K–8 and for unvaccinated students and staff of grades 9–12. It also states that schools should consider requiring masks outdoors as well.
“We know masks work,” Cooper said.
Approximately 24% of North Carolinians aged 12–17 are fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“With property safety prevention measures, the benefits of in-person school outweighs the risks in almost all circumstances,” she said.
Other guidelines include free COVID-19 testing for students and staff at schools, a reduction in social distancing from six to three feet and daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces. It also states that unvaccinated students don’t have to go under quarantine if they were wearing masks during the exposure.
“The health, safety and ability of our students to learn in person depend on school leaders following this guidance,” Cooper said.
Both superintendents at Columbus County Schools and Whiteville City Schools told The News Reporter Wednesday afternoon that they needed time to review the guidance before making any formal decisions.
The statewide mask mandate is set to expire at the end of July.
Cases on the rise
By issuing these guidelines, the state is responding to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant, which is one of four variants of the coronavirus in the United States. It is also more contagious, leading to more positive tests and hospitalizations among unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals.
In the last week, Columbus County has seen 105 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total case count to 6,601 since the pandemic began. NCDHHS recorded eight on July 12, 10 on July 13, 17 on July 14, 16 on July 15, 15 on July 16, three on July 17, nine on July 18 and 27 on July 19.
The Lake Waccamaw Town Hall also closed to walk-in customers on Wednesday due to COVID-19 exposures.
Last month, the county was seeing less than 10, and sometimes zero, cases per day.
Across the state, 94% of new COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated individuals, according to Cohen. “The delta variant is formidable, but vaccines are the best way to protect your health,” she said.
Approximately 34% of Columbus Countians are at least partially vaccinated.
“Now to turn the final corner of this disease, we need everybody to get a shot,” Cooper said. “It could save your life and the life of somebody you love.”