North Carolina officials change their guidance on school face mask rules

·2 min read

North Carolina health officials are no longer requiring face masks to be worn outdoors at schools but are strongly recommending them when social distancing can’t be maintained.

Updated state Health and Human Services guidance released on Wednesday no longer talk about face coverings having to be worn when students, staff and visitors are outdoors at public and private schools. Instead, the new wording in the N.C. Strong Schools Toolkit lists several situations where it recommends, but doesn’t require, that face coverings be worn outdoors.

Face coverings are still required to be worn when people are indoors at schools.

The new wording on outdoor mask use reflects changes Gov. Roy Cooper recently announced ending the state’s outdoor mask mandate.

Until this week, the Strong Schools Toolkit said masks had to be worn outdoors unless students were being kept at least six feet apart. This applied to things such as recess, outdoor classes and outdoor physical education.

But the new wording just says that masks aren’t required for recess, outdoor classes and outdoor PE. No mention is made of social distancing.

Face masks still recommended outdoors

Instead of requirements, the updated toolkit lists instances where outdoor face mask use is recommended:

Have individuals who are not fully vaccinated wear face coverings outdoors when they cannot maintain at least 6 feet social distancing from others.

It is strongly recommended that all individuals (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) wear face coverings in crowded, dense outdoor areas and in outdoor situations in which social distancing is difficult or not possible.

The recommendations come at a time when COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for people under age 16. But the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s vaccine by next week for children ages 12 to 15.

The State Board of Education is expected to adopt the updated guidelines at its meeting next week.

By making it a recommendation to wear face masks outdoors, it puts the pressure on individual school systems and charter schools how to handle the issue. Last week, the Wake County school system told parents it was expecting to make outdoor face mask use optional once it got the updated DHHS guidance.

Some speakers at Tuesday’s Wake County school board meeting urged the district to drop the face mask requirement — both indoors and outdoors.

“The oppressive restrictions centered about masking and social distancing has caused even our family to seriously consider throwing in the towel on in-person learning,” Greg Burda, a parent, told the board. “They can’t even speak without their masks on. What are we doing to children?”

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