Gov. Cooper encourages NC schools, local governments to end mask mandates

RALEIGH, N.C. — During a Thursday news conference, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and health officials recommended schools and local governments end their mask mandates.

This guidance comes as COVID-19 metrics across the state have continued to decline in recent weeks. There has been a significant drop in omicron cases as more school districts continue to drop masks mandates, making face coverings optional for students and staff members.

“We are taking a positive step on mask requirements to help us move safely toward a more normal day to day life,” Cooper said. “It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks.”

There are still some places, such as health care facilities, long-term care facilities and transportation like airplanes, where a mask will be required because of federal guidelines.

Cooper advised people and businesses to make the best decision for themselves, employees and customers.

He said people know how to gauge their level of risk and best protect themselves, mentioning that high quality masks, vaccines and tests are widely available.

“NCDHHS has always been committed to using the right tools at the right time to combat COVID-19 and chart a course for us all to get back to the people, experiences, and places we love,” said Secretary Kinsley. “At this time, the most effective tools are vaccines and boosters. Everyone five and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine and everyone 12 and older should get a booster as soon as they are eligible. It’s not too late to vaccinate.”

Cooper said the states had worked hard to protect North Carolinians throughout the pandemic. He said North Carolina has ranked among the lowest states in COVID-19 deaths and job loss per capita.

Currently, North Carolina has administered over 15.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 71% of the adult population fully vaccinated.

On Wednesday, Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted unanimously to drop the mask mandate after health officials cited several reasons for the recommendation. The change will go into effect on Feb. 26.

(WATCH BELOW: Mecklenburg County drops mask mandate as COVID-19 trends continue to decrease)

Now, all eyes are on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools too see if they decide to drop their mask mandate, following the governor’s recommendations.

“I haven’t seen some of my friend’s faces in two years. No one realizes the impact of this mentally,” said CMS ninth-grader Eve Weiss.

Weiss was one of many speakers calling on Mecklenburg County Commissioners to encourage CMS to drop the mandate.

“We all are tired of wearing a mask. No one thinks it is the best thing. But we make the decision because we think it is the best decision for the community,” said parent Sherri Sonnier-Johnson, who isn’t rushing to lose masks.

The Mecklenburg County’s health director said he has been in touch with the CMS superintendent about making masks optional.

CMS is set to meet Tuesday to discuses the mask mandate.

Last week, Coper said his administration was reviewing mask guidance in light of falling transmission rates.

Up until now, state health officials have strongly urged students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors, but it’s been left up to school boards to make mask-wearing required or optional. About half of the boards in the state have now agreed to mask-optional policies.

Republican legislators like House Speaker Tim Moore want to let parents opt out of local school board mandates that make their children wear masks in school. A House education committee scheduled a Thursday morning meeting to consider such legislation.

A statewide mask mandate expired last summer.

Return to this story for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(Watch the video below: Caldwell County school leaders lift mask mandate)

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