RALEIGH — As North Carolina, and the country, looks to leave the coronavirus behind, not everything is returning to normal just yet. Gov. Roy Cooper extended the mask mandate for certain at-risk settings until the end of July with a new executive order he issued Friday.
The order is in contrast to what’s happened over the last several weeks. Nearly all statewide restrictions, including the mask mandate, have been lifted as well as limits on mass gatherings.
But the wearing of facial coverings, even during the height of the pandemic, has been controversial. As more people become vaccinated and coronavirus cases fall, there’s been a push to eliminate wearing masks altogether.
Cooper, though, isn’t taking chances — in keeping with how he’s dealt with the pandemic since the beginning.
Citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the Democratic governor is leaving the mask mandate in effect at schools, on public transportation and in health care facilities.
At a press conference on Thursday, Cooper said that the state of emergency allows North Carolina to waive certain regulations and receive federal funding that helps with vaccine distribution.
“It’s an important part of getting this pandemic behind us,” Cooper said.
In a letter sent to Cooper earlier in the week, House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell and House Majority Whip Rep. Keith Kidwell, both Republicans, asked for more transparency on the future of the state of the emergency.
“The people of North Carolina have worked extremely hard to follow and adhere to social-distancing guidelines and restrictions. They deserve more information and transparency in this process,” Bell and Kidwell wrote. “We respectfully ask that you provide the legislature and the citizens of this great state with the specific details on how and when the state of emergency can be lifted.”
As of Thursday afternoon, they had not received a reply, a Bell spokesperson said.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger of Eden, who is fully vaccinated, told reporters Thursday that the mask mandate, in its entirety, should be lifted.
“I think individuals can make decisions as to whether they want to wear a mask or not,” Berger said. “Health care facilities can make decisions as to whether or not they feel that masks are necessary or important. What we’ve been able to research, I don’t see that there is any diminishment of any federal funds that would be coming to the state of North Carolina on the failure to have a mask mandate, unless it’s some federal money to pay for masks.”
Last week, Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s Secretary of Health, said many factors contribute to the continuation of certain COVID-19 restrictions, specifically in schools.
“We continue to recognize that the vast majority of students are unvaccinated,” Cohen said.
Children under age 12 are not currently eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Cooper said that mask mandates are still in place in certain settings based on guidance from the CDC.
Among those eligible for the vaccine in North Carolina — age 12 and up — 51% have received at least one dose, trailing the national rate of 62%.
To encourage more vaccinations in the state, Cooper announced an incentive program on Thursday where those vaccinated are entered into a lottery for a chance to win $1 million.