Gov. Cooper says office-return advice coming as NC virus mandates end

CHARLOTTE — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that his administration is acting prudently before recommending when and how state employees should return to their offices, after doing away with most COVID-19 face covering and capacity mandates last week.

Speaking to reporters at a bill-signing ceremony, Cooper again defended his decision on Friday to repeal a statewide mask mandate, even for the unvaccinated. He said guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it plain “that vaccinated people had very little chance of contracting COVID and they had very little chance of transmitting it to someone else.” Many other states have since dropped their mask mandates as well.

The CDC’s research made it very difficult to justify keeping mandatory mask orders in place for everyone, but also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, the governor said. More than 51% of all adults have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, according to state health data.

“It’s important to know we are turning a corner. This research was significant,” he said outside the Executive Mansion, but “we have a lot of work to do and where we all ought to concentrate our effort is vaccinations.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services still recommends that people who aren’t vaccinated wear a mask indoors as well as outside where there are crowds. Mask-wearing remains required for all within schools and on public transportation, and many retailers are still requiring patrons to wear them.

Cooper said DHHS was speaking with CDC officials on Monday before making decisions about how and when employees at state agencies working from home return to their office buildings. The department also could give advice to to other public and private employers. State agencies under Cooper’s oversight will continue their current COVID-19 policies until then, he said.

On another topic, the Democratic governor suggested that the state Senate move forward with passing a two-year budget proposal without first agreeing with the House on how much money should be spent next year. Budget activities have idled for weeks among Republican lawmakers because the two chambers remain far apart on a spending cap figure. They ultimately will send a finalized budget to Cooper’s desk, with a goal of getting it enacted by July 1.

Cooper said it makes little sense to settle on a dollar amount now when an updated revenue forecast will become available in June that incorporates May income tax collections. He anticipates the forecast will show even more funds for the state’s already flush coffers.

“So I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for the Senate and the House to reach any kind of limit,” Cooper said.

Any spending cap reached soon by Republicans is likely to be lower than the governor’s bottom line in his budget proposal from late March. Republican leaders and Cooper have expressed guarded optimism that the governor will sign a budget this year after a 2019 budget veto and negotiating stalemate never got fully resolved.

Nervous about returning to work in-person? Here are a few tips to help ease jitters

After a year of working from home, returning to the office can be a lot -- both mentally and physically.

Therapist Veronda Bellamy told Channel 9 she’s been getting a lot of calls from people who are anxious about returning to work in-person.

She said some of the anxiety is fear around potentially getting COVID-19 -- even those who are full vaccinated are still feeling hesitant about catching the virus.

For others, it’s about adjusting back to a routine that they haven’t had in more than a year, trying to manage kids’ schedules, getting ready in the mornings and the morning commute -- all things that many people haven’t had to deal with in the same way we used to.

Life has had a different pace to it for many, so if you’re feeling uneasy or anxious you aren’t alone.

When asked why the idea of going back to normal feel so strange, Bellamy said, “We’ve been told not to go anywhere, so we’ve been conditioned in our minds to approach life from that standpoint, so to think outside of that is kind of like a shock to the system.”

Here are a few tips to help ease jitters around going back to the office:

  • Talk to your employer about your concerns and see if you can work out a hybrid compromise (some days at home, some days in-person)
  • Think about what systems you had in place before COVID (laying your clothes out the night before, etc.)

Companies offer incentives to get employees back in office

A lot of people like their work from home life, so much that companies are trying to make the office more appealing -- even adding beer on tap.

VIBE NC owner Brandon Reed said he’s getting a lot of calls from companies looking to install cold brew, kombucha, wine and beer taps in the office.

“There’s a shift and a little bit more of a focus on how the employees feel,” he said. “What kind of amenities would they like to see? What kind of perks can we give them?”

He told us many corporate offices are trying to stay competitive by catering to employees

“Kind of team build and work on that company culture,” he said.

(WATCH: Service workers, kids see mental health decline in pandemic, study shows)