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Gov. Cooper lifts most COVID-19 regulations

A day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Friday the immediate removal of all of the state’s mass gathering limits and social distancing requirements, as well as most of its mask mandates.

Masks will still be required in public settings such as public transportation, health care settings like hospitals, doctor’s offices and long-term care facilities, as well as some congregate living settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters. They are also still required in child care, schools and camps. Masks are “strongly recommended” for everyone at large, crowded indoor events such as sporting events and concerts.

“This is a big step forward in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” Cooper said during a press briefing Friday.

The state previously expected to lift most of its COVID-19 mandates by June 1, and Cooper had announced that he would lift the indoor mask mandate once two-thirds of the state’s adult population was vaccinated. That timeline changed in light of the CDC’s new guidance Thursday.

“The CDC did a lot of research and reviewed a number of studies,” Cooper said. “And what they showed was that if you get vaccinated, you’ve got a lot of protection and you also don’t really transfer the virus to other people. And the CDC said at that point it’s just not necessary for people who’ve been vaccinated to wear masks most of the time.”

The changes Cooper’s administration announced Friday mirror the CDC’s guidance.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said during a White House briefing Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

There’s no way for the public to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t — vaccinated individuals are given cards stating that they have received the shot, but they aren’t required to share that information with anyone, and no vaccine mandate exists. So Cooper said following the new guidance is a matter of personal responsibility.

“If you had a requirement only for people who are unvaccinated, then you’d have to have a way of knowing who is unvaccinated,” Cooper said. “And we don’t have a way to do that.

“This is where the personal responsibility comes in. “We’re gonna expect people to do the right thing.”

Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen urged those who haven’t been vaccinated to consider signing up for an appointment.

“If you don’t listen to me, ask your doctor, and do what your doctor tells you,” Cooper said. “With more people not wearing masks going forward, and COVID-19 and its more infectious variants spreading, there’s a real risk that unvaccinated people can get it.”

A reporter asked Cooper how the state will prevent unvaccinated people from using the new guidance as a “green light” to stop wearing masks. Cooper reiterated the importance of personal responsibility.

“Yes, you are likely to see a number of people who are unvaccinated stop wearing masks,” Cooper said. “I do believe that there were a number of people who were unvaccinated who, because there was a rule, did wear a mask. But I think you will see more of them not wearing a mask.

“This just tells people who are not vaccinated that the virus is still out there, and ‘These are the people who can transmit that virus to me. I need to talk to my doctor about getting a shot.’”

Cooper said local governments and businesses can still choose to require masks. He noted that most local governments have followed the state’s guidance to this point.

VACCINE RATE

As of Friday afternoon, 51% of North Carolinians ages 18 and up had been at least partially vaccinated. Beaufort County reported that 50.6% of its adult population had been vaccinated.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC recommended the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15.

“Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock.

Vidant Health recently announced that it will start vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds on Monday. Appointments will take place at Vidant’s vaccine clinic at 2380 W. Arlington Blvd in Greenville. To make an appointment, call 252-847-8000.

The Beaufort County Health Department offers the Moderna vaccine, which has been approved for ages 18 and older. To make an appointment with the health department, call 252-940-6150 or access the online scheduling tool HERE.