TRIAD — Gov. Roy Cooper emphasized the worrisome trends with the recent resurgence of COVID-19 but stopped short Thursday of extending a statewide mask mandate that expires on Friday.
Instead, he repeatedly urged people who are unvaccinated to get their shots.
Meanwhile, those working in cabinet-level state agencies will have to verify their vaccine status or be required to wear a mask and be tested at least once a week, Cooper announced.
“Until more people get the vaccine, we will continue living with the very real threat of serious disease, and we will continue to see more dangerous and contagious variants like delta,” he said.
The governor left open the possibility of restoring mask requirements in the future if infection metrics continue to worsen with the spread of the more contagious delta variant.
Cooper also reversed course from guidance issued last week concerning masks in public schools. On Thursday, he urged all K-12 public school students and staff to be masked, even if they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Last week, he urged only K-8 schools to require masks for students and staff while they are indoors and allow fully vaccinated high school students and staff to be unmasked.
Cooper and state public health officials made reference to U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations this week that all people in communities with substantial or high infection spread — which now is 87 counties in North Carolina, including all of the Triad — wear masks in public indoor settings. But he didn’t reimpose a mandate.
Cooper spent much of the latest coronavirus pandemic briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh hammering the need for more people to get vaccinated, saying the crisis stems from infections in those who haven’t gotten shots. In response to a question from a reporter, he agreed that North Carolinians who don’t get inoculated were being irresponsible.
“I think … (getting vaccinated) is responsible, it’s patriotic and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The briefing by Cooper took place as new COVID-19 cases spiked across the state. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,268 new cases on Thursday, the highest one-day total since Feb. 24.
“Our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction. This is discouraging,” he said.
Also, state public health officials updated guidance encouraging private sector businesses to, at a minimum, verify vaccination status for their workers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said, “There is only one way out of this pandemic and that is vaccination.”
As of Thursday, 57% of the state population had been fully vaccinated, with another 4% partially inoculated, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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