Which NC students must wear masks in school? What about outdoors? Answers to questions


North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced changes to the state’s mask guidelines for public school children, teachers, staff and visitors.

The new guidelines are laid out in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12).

Here are answers to common questions about the new guidelines.

Does my child have to wear a mask at school?

According to the new state guidelines, if your child attends a North Carolina public school and is in kindergarten through grade 8, they will need to wear a mask while indoors at school (see exceptions below).

Beyond grade 8 (i.e. high school), any public school student who is unvaccinated should also wear a mask while indoors at school.

Do school teachers and staff have to wear masks?

The guidance for teachers and staff mirrors that for students: teachers and staff at K-8 schools must wear masks when indoors at school, and beyond grade 8, any unvaccinated teacher or staff member must wear a mask when indoors at school.

The same rules apply for visitors at schools.

Do masks have to be worn outdoors?

Generally speaking, masks do not need to be worn when outdoors — except by people who are not fully vaccinated and in a crowded outdoor setting, or during activities that require sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

Do masks have to be worn on school buses?

Yes. All passengers and drivers should wear a mask while on school buses, including on buses operated by school systems, regardless of the mask policy at school.

What are the exceptions to the mask rules?

The exceptions to the mask rules include:

A person with any medical or behavioral condition or disability.

A person who is under two years of age.

A person who is actively eating or drinking.

A person who is trying to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired.

A person who is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience.

A person who is working at home or is in a personal vehicle.

A person who is temporarily removing their face covering for medical services or for identification purposes.

A person for whom a mask would put them at risk according to workplace safety guidelines.

A person whose vision is impeded by a mask while operating equipment or a vehicle.

A child whose guardian has been unable to place the mask safely on the child’s face.

How will the mask rules at schools be enforced?

NCDHHS strongly advises that school leaders adopt the mask guidelines outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. But for now, Cooper says it will be up to local school boards to actually enforce the state guidance.

If the school districts do not enforce the state’s mask rules, then further action will be taken. The governor has so far not elaborated on what that action might be.

Why does my child have to wear a mask at school?

The CDC has said that consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is vital to stop the spread of COVID-19 — especially when indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

While it has been shown that children do not typically get sick enough with COVID-19 to require hospitalization, children are shown to spread the virus.

What are the current CDC guidelines for masking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that masks be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated.

What are the North Carolina guidelines for masking?

North Carolina’s current statewide mask mandate, which expires at the end of July, does not ask that vaccinated or unvaccinated people wear masks in most public settings.

There are exceptions, and those are: schools, child care facilities, children’s day or overnight camps, health care settings like longterm care centers, public or private transportation regulated by the state (such as bus and train stations or stops), prisons, homeless shelters.

When the state’s mask mandate expires, Gov. Cooper says the state will follow CDC guidelines.

What else will schools do to make sure kids are safe?

In addition to the mask guidelines, schools are also encouraged to promote vaccination for those who are eligible and for their families.

Schools should also try to keep a distance of three feet between K-12 students who are not fully vaccinated, as much as possible.

Adults (teachers, staff and visitors) who are not fully vaccinated are expected to maintain a distance of six feet whenever possible.

When do the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit rules take effect?

The guidance in the StrongSchools NC Toolkit takes effect at 5 p.m. on July 30, 2020.