After months of reminding the public to mask-up and keep their distance, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that North Carolina would be lifting its gathering limits, social distancing requirements, and indoor mask mandate in most circumstances.
The news comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday a shift in federal guidelines, allowing fully-vaccinated Americans to shed their masks both indoors and outdoors.
“This is a big step forward in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” Gov. Cooper said.
There will continue to be an indoor mask requirement on public transportation, in childcare settings, schools, camps and in certain public health settings.
Just over 51% of the state is now partially vaccinated and 45.5% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Click below to listen to the governor explain why they are making this change now:
The governor acknowledged that there are those who are unvaccinated who may use this as an excuse to stop taking safety precautions.
“Get vaccinated now. And if you won’t listen to me, ask your doctor. Do what your doctor tells you,” the governor urged.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department remains committed to its expansion strategy — making the vaccines readily available statewide.
State officials had hoped to lift the restrictions when 66% of North Carolinians had been partially vaccinated.
And while that milestone is still a long ways off, Cohen believes the state can reach its goal with the help of the business community.
“Some are offering incentives to their own employees to get vaccinated – time off, some are offering bonus pay,” said Dr. Cohen. “We’ve already heard about free donuts, free beer. I really appreciate businesses stepping forward and helping us raise awareness and incentivize folks getting a vaccine.”
Even with today’s shift, NCDHHS is recommending businesses post signage reminding guests to socially distance and wear a face covering if they are not fully vaccinated, and remind employees to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
It’s worth noting that businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks.
Masks will still be strongly recommended by the state for everyone at large crowded indoor gatherings such as sporting events and live performances.
And for the time being masks will be mandatory in schools.
“Just starting yesterday (Thursday) our 12-15 years are now eligible. They are starting to get vaccinated, but we know it is going to take some time. That still leaves a large population of our student body unvaccinated.”
Cohen said the state will follow the CDC’s guidance while working to get as many shots in arms as possible.
“This is a virus that has been with us for over a year now. It is going to continue to be with us,” she cautioned.
Click here to read Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 215 lifting many of the COVID mandates.