‘The science is clear’: Cooper, health leaders urge schools to make masks mandatory

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson have sent a letter to school boards that have not adopted the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, urging them to protect their students and staff in the new school year.

“The science is clear that children learn better when they attend school in person and the science is also clear that masks reduce COVID infections so we can keep them there,” Cooper said. “The delta variant is moving fast and I strongly urge school leaders who have made masks optional to reconsider and make them mandatory.”

>> Read the letter here.

The letter outlines the increasing rates of COVID-19 infection in children and higher numbers of hospitalizations for pediatric patients, as well as how overall cases have increased by more than 50% in the past seven days.

The letter also emphasizes that vaccines remain the best weapon to fight the pandemic, but since children under 12 are ineligible they remain vulnerable. It also offers state health leaders help to local school systems and county public health officials to assist with implementation of the toolkit health protections.

“In-person learning is very important for the academic and overall wellbeing of our children,” said Cohen. “following the recommendations in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit, school districts can greatly lower the risk of viral spread to children and staff in the classroom this year.”

The updated StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit is aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance, which urges keeping students in schools for in-person learning while also mandating face masks indoors. The Toolkit says schools with students in kindergarten through twelfth grade should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

This guidance became effective July 30 and was adopted by the State Board of Education. Local school leaders are responsible for requiring and implementing protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit in consultation with their local health departments.

“The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through North Carolina,” said Tilson. “A layered approach to prevention, including universal masking, helps protect the health and well-being of students and staff and helps keep everyone in school -- teaching, learning, and thriving.”

North Carolina has administered nearly 10 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 58% of adults fully vaccinated.

(WATCH BELOW: Educational leader concerned about children without masks in school)