New guidance for masks in NC schools could come Wednesday

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – New guidance on wearing masks in schools could come Wednesday during the state’s next scheduled COVID-19 briefing, as federal officials make new recommendations and some state legislators seek to limit the governor’s authority to require them.

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.

“The ultimate goal for us is to make sure with the parents, that there’s local choice in what’s happening,” said Rep. David Willis (R-Union). “Where we are with vaccines and the availability of them today, I think it really needs to be a parental choice.”

Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) urged Cooper to keep the mask requirement in schools in place. She said an elderly relative of hers who is fully vaccinated recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“This is a pandemic. I mean, it makes sense for us to be smart about how we behave,” she said. “The school boards aren’t public health experts, the school board members. I used to be on the school board. That’s not the appropriate place for that kind of decision.”

Insko said having varying policies across the state would be “chaotic” and argued for a uniform approach.

When the House passed a version of the bill in June, all but three Democrats voted against it.

The decision comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising again while the delta variant has become the dominant strain in North Carolina.

Dr. Zack Moore, chief of the epidemiology section of the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, said, “Case rates are higher in young people compared to earlier in the pandemic. And, that’s not necessarily because delta has any special ability to infect young people. It’s because the older age groups are more heavily vaccinated.”

Some school boards across North Carolina, including in Harnett County, have already voted to make masks optional next school year. https://www.cbs17.com/covid-19-and-schools-2/nc-students-will-likely-wear-masks-to-class-again-this-fall-unless-state-changes-covid-19-rules/

“I wish we’d had some decisions made prior to now because you’ve got a lot of parents who aren’t comfortable sending their kids to school in the fall in masks,” said Rep. Willis.

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