By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on July 21, 2021
Update: After Cooper’s July 21 remarks, the Dare County Schools announced that the Board of Education will meet in a special session on Thursday, July 29, at 5:00 p.m., at First Flight High School. The purpose of the meeting is for the Board to consider local implementation procedures of the StrongSchools NC Public Health Toolkit for the opening of the 2021-2022 academic year. The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast live via YouTube on the district website.
Governor Roy Cooper announced during a July 21 press conference that the current COVID-19 Executive Order — which includes a mask mandate in some settings to slow the spread of the virus — will expire at the end of this month.
At the same time, the governor unveiled new guidelines that strongly encourage North Carolina’s public schools to continue requiring students, staff and guests in grades K-8 to wear masks, while directing that districts ensure that all unvaccinated individuals in high schools continue to wear a face covering indoors.
“We know that masks work,” Cooper asserted. “The health and safety and ability of our students to learn in person, depends on school leaders following this guidance.” State officials did not address how high schools should determine vaccinated from unvaccinated high school students under the new mask guidelines.
Pointing to the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine is not currently available for children under 12, Cooper added, “We all need to work together to keep our younger children in the classroom and safe. One way to protect them is to get vaccinated yourself. If you’re eligible, and you get your first shot today, you can be fully protected by the start of the school year and less likely to infect your child.”
The guidelines, laid out in the updated NC Strong Schools Public Health Toolkit, also update quarantine protocols for districts across the state. Under the new protocols encouraged by the state, students who are fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms do not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Unvaccinated students do not have to quarantine after a close contact if they have appropriately and consistently worn a mask.
Related to physical distancing, the state toolkit now directs schools to maintain three feet of distance as opposed to six feet whenever possible.
“It’s important to note that the need for additional statewide action and changes to the toolkit may be needed over time as we receive new data,” N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said during the briefing, noting that the toolkit reflects the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As the Delta variant takes hold in North Carolina – with Cohen saying that 80 percent of the cases in the state are now being attributed to it – both she and Cooper took the opportunity to drive home the need for more North Carolinians to get vaccinated.
Currently, 60 percent of North Carolina residents ages 18 and older have received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Only 24 percent of the 12-17 population has been fully vaccinated, Cohen said.
“We are seeing the impact of [the variants of] COVID-19, and it is hitting those unvaccinated – our cases are up, hospitalizations are up, the percentage of tests that are positive are up,” Cohen stated. “We also know that ninety-four percent of the cases and hospitalizations we have now are in people who are not vaccinated.”
“More likely than not, if you are getting a case now, it is likely that Delta variant,” Cohen added. “Delta has now basically swamped the other [strains] of COVID at this point.”
Also noting that the increase in COVID-19 cases has been fueled by the Delta variant, Cooper reported that there have been 1,434 new cases of COVID-19 reported since yesterday, and 694 people are currently hospitalized in the state with the virus. He said that the State of Emergency related to COVID-19 will remain in place for the time being.
By way of comparison, about a month ago, the number of new daily cases was hovering somewhere around the 500 mark. And at the beginning of July, statewide hospitalization numbers had dipped below 400.
Speaking of the six percent of positive cases in North Carolina that have been breakthrough cases, or positive cases in fully vaccinated individuals, the governor asserted: “This illustrates even more that vaccines are working, because almost across the board, the people who become infected who are vaccinated, are less seriously ill, and there’s less of a chance of them going into the hospital and dying.”