North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper listens to Dr. Mandy Cohen

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (right) listens to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, during a news briefing on COVID-19 on Thursday, April 30, 2020 at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – North Carolina K-8 schools should require students and staff to wear masks when schools open for the upcoming school year, according to new guidance released Wednesday by the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen unveiled the new guidelines.

“The most important work our state will do next month is getting all our school children back into the classrooms safely for in-person learning,” Cooper said. “That’s the best way for them to learn, and we want their school days to be as close to normal as possible, especially after a year of disruption.”

North Carolina’s K-12 schools should return to full in-person learning before Aug. 26. Under the new guidance, students and staff in high schools who are fully vaccinated should not be required to wear masks. Social distancing no longer will be a requirement in classrooms or on transportation. Staff would no longer have to conduct daily symptom checks or keep students’ personal items separate.

Cooper said local school leaders are responsible for implementing protocols in consultation with their local health departments.

The changes come as more North Carolinians get vaccinated against the coronavirus. However, only people age 12 and older are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. About 57% of North Carolinians age 12 and older have been vaccinated.

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise over the past week. Cooper said the state would modify the guidance if the pandemic worsens.

State officials continued to urge North Carolinians to get vaccinated Wednesday. The school guidance also encourages educators to promote vaccinations.

“Thanks to these safe and effective vaccines, we can make sure the darkest days of this pandemic are behind us,” Cooper said. “Now, to turn the final corner of this disease, we need everyone to get their shot.”

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