North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said youth have the highest rate of COVID-19 castes in the state, and he called for an end to bullying at schools and at school boards that keeps them from taking precautions.
Cooper said less than half of North Carolina residents ages 12 to 24 have had one dose of vaccine.
“Threats, bullying, intimidation — none of this belongs in our public schools, particularly by adults,” Cooper said. “Remember, our children are watching.”
At a news conference, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said patients younger than 17 made up a third of all new cases in the week ending Sept. 18, a trend that has continued for three weeks.
“This doesn’t need to happen,” she said.
She and the governor stressed masks should be worn indoors until more people are vaccinated while teachers and school children in all counties should continue wearing face coverings without any form of harassment.
Cooper said there are concerns about the “fevered pitch that many school board meetings have reached in recent weeks.” Boards have been meeting to consider mask mandates and often have faced groups of protesters. Last week in Johnston County, Congressman Madison Cawthorn from western North Carolina spoke before the school board that’s far from his district.
“They’re absorbing everything they see and hear, even if we think they aren’t paying attention,” Cooper said. “Being civil & respectful of one another is important to navigate another COVID school year. Let’s behave the way we ask our kids to act. We owe it to them and we owe it to each other.”
Meanwhile, Cooper said he and Cohen sent a letter to faith leaders statewide asking them to combat misinformation about COVID-19.
“We’re grateful for the faith leaders who are ministering to their congregations by helping to save lives and getting more people vaccinated,” Cooper said. “We’ll continue to support them however we can.”
Slowdown in COVID cases
Cooper’s remarks came as state health officials are reporting a slowdown in the virus’ spread, though the state’s caseload still far exceeds their goals.
DHHS reported 3,464 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday, and that the state has averaged 6,000 new cases a day. Roughly 63% are fully vaccinated.
The governor’s coronavirus response strategy this summer has been to double down on vaccinations, which he has said repeatedly is the way out of the pandemic.
Cooper did not reissue a statewide mask mandate after lifting it in May, choosing instead to urge local governments to put their own in place. Several major cities in North Carolina have indoor mask mandates, including Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte.
For vaccinations, Cooper has required vaccination verification or weekly testing for about 55,000 state employees under his jurisdiction, but stopped short of a complete mandate. Employees had until Sept. 8 to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
Of eight of the 10 Cabinet agencies reporting, the Department of Public Safety had the lowest vaccination rate at 53% as of data reported last week. The highest vaccination rate was at the N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, with 82% fully vaccinated. Rates for DHHS and Commerce have not yet been made available.
President Joe Biden has mandated vaccinations for federal employees and required employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccination verification or testing for their employees.
Cooper and Cohen have strongly urged schools to require masks, and nearly all school districts mandate them. On Monday, the Johnston County school board voted again to require masks for students and teachers, a split decision that came over the objection of many parents and U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who does not represent the district or have children in school there.
A provision in an education bill signed into law this summer requires local school boards to vote monthly on mask mandates.
The governor also spoke as the vaccination deadline arrived for employees at two of the Triangle’s largest hospital systems, UNC Health and Duke Health. Those who fail to get vaccinated or provide an exemption could lose their jobs.