NC Gov. Cooper lifts most coronavirus mask, distancing requirements

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North Carolinians can feel free to move about without wearing masks in most settings, inside and outside, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ease, Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday.

Cooper’s announcement comes a day after new guidelines released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said people who are fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by state and local rules or where required by private businesses and employers.

North Carolina went a step further Friday, by lifting mask requirements for everyone, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not.

“That means in most settings, indoors or outdoors, the state of North Carolina will no longer require you to wear a mask or to be socially distant,” Cooper said at a press conference Friday afternoon. “This is a big step forward, in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic.”

Cooper said the indoor mask requirement will remain in effect on public transportation and in child care centers, schools, prisons and certain public health settings.

The state Department of Health and Human Services will continue to recommend that people who have not been vaccinated continue to wear masks.

The CDC’s surprise announcement was the strongest sign yet that COVID-19 vaccines are allowing life to get back to normal.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said at the White House on Thursday.

After Cooper scheduled Friday’s press conference, state Senate leader Phil Berger put out a statement calling on him to “immediately withdraw North Carolina’s mask mandate.”

“Imposing personal restrictions on those who pose no public health risk is senseless and will further undermine what trust remains in public health authorities,” Berger said.

Many retailers and other businesses are not expected to drop their mask requirements right away. After all, a majority of adults nationwide, about 55%, are not fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

As of Friday, about 46% of adults 18 and older in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Of those 65 and older, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, that number is more than 75%.

Cooper’s most recent executive order, which went into effect two weeks ago, said people no longer need to wear masks outdoors in North Carolina. But Cooper said at the time that COVID-19 was still too prevalent to fully lift restrictions.

Cooper had said he expected to lift all pandemic restrictions by June 1, because of the growing number of people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as progress in curbing spread of the virus.

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, 989,338 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in North Carolina, according to the state, and 12,862 have died of COVID-19.