CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged schools and local governments to end mask mandates Thursday, citing widespread vaccine availability and decreasing COVID-19 metrics statewide.
"The last couple of months, omicron overran the nation quickly," Cooper said during a Thursday briefing from Raleigh. "Now, just about as fast as the numbers peaked, they're falling. This variant is clearly more contagious, yet generally causes less severe illness, particularly to people who are vaccinated and boosted. And now people know how to gauge their level of risk and best protect themselves."
Cooper's recommendation comes one day after Mecklenburg County commissioners unanimously voted to drop the county's indoor mask mandate.
During an exclusive interview with WCNC Charlotte's Flashpoint, Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington says we now begin the next phase of the pandemic.
"Now is a good time for us to begin this transition to what I have phrased as 'Covid response 2.0,'" he said in the interview that will air in full Sunday morning at 11 a.m. on WCNC Charlotte.
The updated guidance from both the county and governor also comes less than a week after the Department of Health and Human Services made major changes to its COVID-19 safety measures for schools.
"We've relied on local school boards and governments and local public health officials to make good decisions," Cooper said. "I am grateful for local officials who have done amazing work to protect children and save lives under difficult circumstances."
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education could vote on masking in CMS classrooms as early as next Tuesday. Sources told WCNC Charlotte that masks are now an "action item" on the agenda. This designation means district leaders could choose to vote to change the current mask mandate if they desired.
As a result of recent guidance, some businesses are changing their protocols.
A spokesperson for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte told WCNC Charlotte Thursday their members will no longer have to wear masks indoors but masks will be available for those who choose to use them.
Meanwhile, the owner of Salon Zen in Charlotte's Steele Creek neighborhood said it will still be requiring masks a little while longer while covid metrics remain high.
Last week, NCDHHS said schools no longer need to trace contacts of individual cases, citing a large number of asymptomatic cases and more access to at-home tests. State leaders also said students or staff exposed to COVID-19 no longer need to stay home before returning to school as long as they don't have symptoms.
One change that wasn't included? Mask guidance. Currently, North Carolina districts are allowed to make their own mask policies. The only requirement is they must vote on those policies each month, according to state law. Several districts in the Charlotte area have recently voted to make masks optional. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools voted on Feb. 8 to keep masks mandatory. The next board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22.
A new bill filed in the General Assembly would give North Carolina parents the ability to opt out of student mask mandates for their children. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, issued a statement saying "parents, not politicians" should make those decisions for their children.
Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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