Governor Roy Cooper says the state will recommend schools and other low-risk settings lift mask mandates, should local governments and boards decide to do so, starting March 7.

“We are taking a positive step on mask requirements to help us move safely toward a more normal day-to-day life,” Cooper said at a Thursday press conference. “It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks.”

The recommendation includes lifting mandates for schools and government facilities. It does not include high-risk settings like health care facilities, correctional facilities, and other congregate care settings. 

The decision comes as the surge of the Omicron variant continues to decrease, with fewer daily cases and fewer hospitalizations. As of Thursday, there were 5,583 new cases reported, a 10.6 percent positive rate. That’s a far cry from last month, when more than 30 percent of state-provided tests were coming back positive. 

“As we emerge front the latest surge, the COVID-19 landscape looks different today than it did two years ago, or even two months ago,” Department of Health and Human Services Director Kody Kinsley said. “We have learned more about the virus and now have several tools that reduce the risk for people.”

Kinsley said vaccination rates have been a big factor in the Omicron downturn—among the most vulnerable, 65-year-olds and older, 96 percent have received one dose of a vaccine. Statewide, 75 percent of the population over the age of 18 is vaccinated. 

“Vaccines provide the strongest protections against serious illness hospitalizations and death from this virus,” Cooper said. “It is the unvaccinated who are experiencing the vast majority of covid deaths.”

The state plans to update its guidance by March 7. Local municipalities and school boards will still have the option to keep their mask mandates in place, should they so choose. 

“People and businesses should continue to make the best decisions for themselves, their employees, and their customers,” Cooper said.

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