Gov. Cooper extends state of emergency, mask mandate for at-risk settings

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended the mask mandate for certain at-risk settings until the end of July, with a new executive order issued Friday.

At-risk settings under the mask mandate are public schools, health care facilities and prisons.

The original order, issued in May, was set to expire at 5 p.m. on Friday.

The state of emergency began in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state has been under that order since.

Over the last several weeks, nearly all statewide restrictions, including the mask mandate, have been lifted.

Citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the mask mandate remains 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, asking 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,” they said.

As of Thursday afternoon, they had not received a reply, a Bell spokesperson told The N&O.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger, 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,” he said.

Last week, Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen 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.

At time of publication, Berger and Cooper’s offices have not responded to The N&O for comment.

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Ben Sessoms covers housing and gentrification in the Triangle for the News & Observer through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered issues. Before joining the News & Observer, Ben covered long-term hurricane recovery in eastern North Carolina for Carnegie-Knight News21 and education in Iredell County for the Statesville Record & Landmark. He is a 2019 alum of Appalachian State University.

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