Which NC state workers face vaccine order? What about mask rules? Answers to questions

·4 min read

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday announced a new executive order affecting some unvaccinated state employees. But there is no new statewide mask mandate.

At Thursday’s press conference, Cooper and DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen expressed concern at the current accelerated rate of COVID infections and hospitalizations, due to the delta variant and the high number of unvaccinated citizens.

Here’s what you need to know from Cooper’s press conference.

What does the new executive order mean?

Workers at agencies that are part of the Governor’s Office or headed by members of the Governor’s Cabinet will have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if they are not fully vaccinated. This part of the order takes effect on Sept. 1, 2021.

Additionally, those unvaccinated Cabinet Agency workers will have to wear masks while in any indoor area of a state government office, building and facility that is controlled by an agency that is part of the Governor’s Office or is headed by a member of the Governor’s Cabinet. This policy takes effect on Aug. 2, 2021. (Note: When not within six feet of other employees, the face coverings can be removed.)

Which state employees are affected by the order?

The new executive order affects about 55,000 workers who report to Cooper, either directly or indirectly, in the following agencies:

Department of Health and Human Services

Department of Public Safety

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Department of Administration

Department of Commerce

Department of Revenue

Department of Transportation

Department of Environmental Quality

Department of Information Technology

Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Are there exceptions to the vaccination requirements?

According to the order: “Workers with disabilities that impair or prevent vaccination, workers who are not recommended by a physician to be vaccinated and workers with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that is inconsistent with vaccination may request a reasonable accommodation from the proof of vaccination requirement.”

But those workers will also be expected to wear a face covering.

Do fully vaccinated workers have to wear masks?

Fully vaccinated Cabinet Agency Workers do not have to wear face coverings at work, if they provide proof that they are fully vaccinated. But in accordance with CDC recommendations, masks are encouraged even for vaccinated people when indoors around those who may not be vaccinated.

Does anyone else have to follow the order?

The language of the order “strongly encourages” other agencies of state government, local governments, private businesses and other organizations to undertake similar measures — regular testing and face covering requirements for the unvaccinated — to both encourage vaccination and slow the spread of COVID-19.

What if I’m just visiting a state building?

According to the order, “it is recommended that all visitors to government facilities wear a face covering in any indoor areas of government offices, building and facilities.”

Do mask rules change for schools?

Just last week, Cooper and Cohen announced new guidelines for NC public schools in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12).

The guidelines called for masking for all students, teachers and visitors inside K-8 schools, and masking for all unvaccinated people inside high schools.

On Thursday, Cooper and Cohen said that schools and school systems are “strongly urged” to follow guidance recently released by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which recommends that all students, staff and visitors in K-12 schools wear face coverings.

For now, Cooper says it will be up to local school boards to enforce the state guidance.

Is there any kind of statewide mask mandate now?

No, the statewide mask mandate — which required masks inside schools, child care facilities, health care and long-term care facilities, prisons and on public transportation — expires at the end of July.

Instead, Cooper encourages people to follow the latest CDC recommendations, which currently call for all people to wear masks when in gatherings or public settings indoors where unvaccinated people may be.

Businesses are strongly encouraged to require guests to wear a face covering in indoor settings.

Are there any mask or vaccine requirements for childcare centers?

As with other private businesses, it is up to individual childcare and daycare centers to make vaccinations and masks mandatory among staff, and they are “strongly encouraged” to do so.

Can a city or county issue a mask mandate?

Yes, cities and counties can issue their own mandates, and citizens must follow those rules.

Why are rules getting more strict again now?

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise once again.

Cohen said on Thursday that the trajectory of cases is rising faster now than what we have seen in past increases, and that is because the delta variant is much more contagious.

Cooper said, “This virus is now much more contagious and spreading fast, and it will find you if you’re unvaccinated.”

As of Tuesday, the latest day available, 9.3% of coronavirus tests were reported positive. Health officials say 5% or lower is the target rate to slow the spread of the virus.

Staff writers Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan and Ben Sessoms contributed to this report.

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