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Most North Carolina state agencies move to mask-optional policy March 7

Gov. Roy Cooper cites rapidly-declining COVID-19 levels, along with the availability of vaccines and boosters, in making the decision.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Most of North Carolina's state government agencies will soon be moving to mask-optional policies across the board under a new executive order.

In an announcement on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said most agencies will be mask-optional effective March 7. The governor said improving trends with COVID-19 led to the decision, and it coincides with updated guidance from state health leaders.

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“COVID-19 levels are declining rapidly, and we have vaccinations, boosters, and effective treatments that are making this step possible,” he said. “This virus is still causing serious illness and death mostly in unvaccinated people and the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Executive Order No. 253 updates the policy set out by the Office of State Human Resources for agencies within the Governor's cabinet. However, agency heads who determine their departments involve high-risk work may still require masks as they see fit. Agencies that oversee long-term care facilities, correctional centers, homeless shelters, and health care facilities are among examples that can still require staff to mask up. Federal regulations in certain facilities may also still demand masks for employees.

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While the order makes masks optional, previous guidance regarding vaccination status remains the same. Anyone working for a state agency who is not vaccinated still must be tested for COVID-19 at least once per week. However, at-home rapid antigen tests can be used to meet the testing requirement starting March 7, along with PCR tests that have already been in use.

A FAQ was also published online.

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