Gov. Roy Cooper announced at Thursday’s press briefing he will put in place a new executive order that will require cabinet agency state employees to prove they have been vaccinated. As well, unvaccinated employees will be required to wear a mask and get Covid-19 tests at least once a week if they do not get their shots. The order will go into effect Sept. 1 and will impact more than 50,000 state employees, the governor said.
Employees that work under the Council of State agencies will not fall under the order.
“We want to get this verification in place to protect state employees and customers who come into state employee agencies,” Cooper said.
Ramifications for employees who choose not to wear a mask or get a Covid test is yet to be determined, according to the governor. He hopes the move will encourage other agencies and the private sector to follow in the same footsteps.
“It’s a strong recommendation that companies verify vaccination status of their employees,” Cooper said, “and those who are unvaccinated to wear a mask and go through testing. Many private businesses are already doing this.”
Still, Cooper said he is moving forward in letting the statewide mask mandate expire on July 30. The StrongSchoolsNC toolkit also is updated, he said, to reflect recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which changed on Tuesday. The CDC has suggested students K-12, as well as faculty, staff and administration, should wear a mask this fall –– regardless of vaccination status.
Many school boards across the state, such as in Pender County, have already voted to make masks optional in the upcoming school year. Cooper said he would reach out and ask them to reconsider in light of surging cases caused by the delta variant.
“Delta is more contagious, not just for adults, but for children as well,” North Carolina Department of Heath and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said. “We’re seeing more cases in our kids than we had before.”
Wherein the original Covid strain would infect two or three people for every one person infected, the delta variant has increased it threefold and infects six people for every one person who contracts it, Cohen explained.
“Nearly all of that spread happens among people who are not vaccinated,” she added.
The state’s top health official iterated the variant now accounts for 92% of cases in the unvaccinated population. With low vaccination numbers driving up metrics, she said she fears the virus will continue to mutate.
“I don’t want this virus to change again,” Cohen said. “Right now, we have [a] more contagious [strain]. I worry it will get more dangerous, too, and that’s a combo we don’t want.”
The CDC also suggested Tuesday that everyone, including vaccinated individuals, mask up in areas with increased Covid-19 numbers. Officials said 80% of counties in North Carolina are experiencing high viral spread.
On the Covid-19 County Alert Map, New Hanover shows “moderate” impact, Pender has “substantial” impact, and Brunswick County is “significantly impacted” with cases.
“Until more people get a vaccine, we will continue living with threat of the disease,” Cooper said. “Our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction — unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence.”
North Carolina now has a 9.4% positive rate on Covid-19 cases statewide, with over 3,200 new cases reported since yesterday and more than 1,100 hospitalizations across the state. Over 13,000 people have died from the virus in total.
Cohen said the last time the state saw over 3,000 new cases in 24 hours was in February. All metrics are experiencing a steep rise in numbers.
Still, Cooper said he wants to put emphasis on encouraging vaccinations rather than mandating them.
Just two days ago state-run healthcare facilities began mandating vaccines by September. Last week, Novant Health, which runs New Hanover Regional Medical Center, announced all employees will be required to get a vaccine. Cooper estimated more than 70% of employees at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have been vaccinated.
“This moment requires action,” Cooper said.
Cohen agreed: “There is only one way out of this pandemic: That is vaccination.”
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