State split on Gov. Cooper’s new executive order requiring masks, verification of vaccination

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is ordering leaders of Cabinet-level agencies to verify if state employees have been vaccinated, leaders of some agencies outside of his authority said Friday they’re not changing their existing protocols. 

Cooper signed a new executive order Thursday that does not mandate employees get vaccinated. However, they will have to verify whether they’ve been vaccinated.

Beginning Sept. 1, those who are not vaccinated will have to be tested for COVID-19 at least weekly and wear a mask. 

“We’re going to continue to push this forward and hope it expands across the state,” Cooper said. “We want to make sure that we are pushing people toward vaccination using the tools that we have.” 

State officials tell CBS 17 that Cooper’s order applies to more than 54,000 permanent employees and about 4,300 temporary employees in areas such as public safety, health and human services and environmental quality, among others. 

Independently elected members of the Council of State, who oversee a variety of other state agencies, will have to decide whether to follow Cooper’s lead. 

“We have no plans to implement any changes to our Safe Return to the Worksite Plan at this time,” Barry Smith, a spokesman for Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey (R) said. “We will continue to assess the COVID-19 pandemic to see if any changes are necessary in the future to protect the safety and health of our valued employees and visitors.” 

Additionally, State Treasurer Dale Folwell (R) said he’s still reviewing the new executive order, but called Cooper’s decision “problematic.”  

“I don’t think this has been thought through as extensively as it needs to be,” Folwell said. “If we could ever have a real meeting on these important topics, a transparent public meeting where we would be able to challenge assumptions, I think we would get to a better outcome on behalf of all the citizens.” 

Furthermore, spokespeople for Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler (R), Atty. Gen. Josh Stein (D), Sec. of State Elaine Marshall (D) and State Auditor Beth Wood (D) said they were still reviewing the Governor’s order before deciding whether to take the same step.  

“We applaud the Governor and the President for focusing on getting more North Carolinians and Americans vaccinated as COVID cases are rising,” Liz Proctor, a spokesperson for Sec. Mashall, wrote in an email.   The Agency is evaluating the Governor’s Executive Order and receiving additional information from the Office of State Human Resources about implementing similar policies to protect our staff from this deadly virus.”

Proctor also said between 70 and 80-percent of employees have already self-identified as being vaccinated, and more than half are working remotely at least some of the time. They are also constantly evaluating their policies as the COVID-19 case levels continue to rise.

Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, who oversees operations at the state legislative building where the General Assembly meets, said they will continue using existing safety measures and protocols. Masks have never been required at the legislative building throughout the pandemic. 

Graham Wilson, the spokesperson for Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby also weighed in.

“The North Carolina Constitution states that ‘all courts shall remain open’ and that ‘justice shall be administered without favor, denial or delay’,” Newby said.  “The Judicial Branch is committed to fulfilling this constitutional mandate while protecting the health and safety of judicial officials, employees and the public. The Chief Justice has not entered any new emergency orders. Local judicial officials are in the best position to make safety decisions for their districts and should continue to consult with local health officials.” 

It’s unclear how many state employees are vaccinated. 

The Department of Health and Human Services is taking one step further beyond what Cooper has ordered by mandating that employees, volunteers, students, trainees, contractors and temporary workers in state operated healthcare facilities be fully vaccinated by the end of September. 

In the letter announcing that, the agency said so far more than 75-percent of employees in those facilities already are vaccinated.

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