Thirty-seven school districts in North Carolina have changed their policies and will require masks in the classroom, according to the North Carolina School Boards Association and reporting by Spectrum News 1.
As of Tuesday, 89 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts require masks indoors, following guidelines from the state Department of Health and Human Services. That means the vast majority of K-12 students in public schools are now under mask mandates.
There are still 27 school districts in the state, covering mostly rural areas, where masks are optional.
Gov. Roy Cooper and DHHS released guidelines last month calling for everyone to wear masks inside school buildings, but left it up to individual school boards to make the final decision for each district.
“Requiring masks in schools will help keep students learning in the classroom while helping to keep COVID out. We want schools to educate children, not become hotspots for the virus,” the governor said recently.
Cooper said he left the decision on masks to school boards because local control would lead to more buy-in for supporting mask mandates at schools and in communities across North Carolina.
Most traditional calendar schools started this week.
School boards around the state have been met with protests over mask mandates. But even in areas with the loudest protesters, board members who initially voted to make masks optional have reversed their decisions as coronavirus case numbers continue to climb.
Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who represents much of western North Carolina, has shown up at some school board meetings in the mountains to speak against requiring masks in schools.
Public health officials say the delta variant, a more contagious strain of the coronavirus, is to blame for this new spike in cases. People who have not gotten vaccinated account for most of the new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Daily case numbers are back up to where they were during the last coronavirus spike in the winter. DHHS reported 4,623 new cases on Tuesday, and 3,342 people are in the hospital with COVID-19.
Pfizer’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration Monday. Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to receive emergency approval, and with the full approval, public health officials hope more people will get the shots.
"Vaccines are our most important tool in the fight against COVID-19," DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Monday. "All authorized vaccines have met rigorous testing and scientific standards. Millions of North Carolinians have been safely vaccinated, but for some people full FDA approval provides additional confidence."
North Carolina’s vaccination campaign had been lagging over the summer but has picked up again in recent weeks as case counts started to surge again, according to DHHS data.
About 59% of adults in the state are now fully vaccinated.
Children under 12 are still not able to get vaccinated. Public health officials say it will likely be next year before a vaccine is approved for children 5 to 11 years old.