Cooper said he "urges" private businesses to adopt his administration's new mask and vaccination protocols "at a minimum."
RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen on Thursday announced all state government employees in his administration must prove their vaccination status or submit to regular testing for COVID-19 and wear a mask.
"Our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction," he said ahead of that announcement.
The updated guidance, spelled out in a new Executive Order, applies to cabinet agencies including the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environmental Quality, among others.
At a news conference from the Emergency Operations Center, Cooper's shift in tone was stern as he noted the dramatic rise in cases and hospitalizations, which are predominantly among unvaccinated North Carolinians. It was a marked departure from the cautious optimism he has expressed in recent months as vaccinations plateaued across the state.
"Don't wait until you or a family member is sick and going on a ventilator," he said. "Don't wait until we run out of hospital beds. Don't wait until skyrocketing numbers threaten to shut businesses or cancel sports. Don't wait until you infect someone you love."
Cooper said he "urges" and "implores" local businesses, corporations, universities, and other government agencies in the Council of State to adopt his administration's new protocols "at a minimum."
Regarding masking in schools, Cooper said that, in accordance with the CDC, the state recommends that all K-12 schools require masks for all their students and teachers.
He also said that, going forward, everyone in a county with high rates of virus spread - including those who have been vaccinated - is encouraged to wear a mask in public indoor settings. In North Carolina, that is 80% of counties.
Cohen said there's a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases in the state.
"This is because the COVID virus is now much, much more contagious," she said.
Cohen said that the original COVID spread from one person to an average of two to three people. But now, the Delta variant spreads from one person to an average of six people.
She also said the increase in hospitalizations has been the fastest rise so far in the pandemic.
"Vaccines are now widely available," Cohen said. She noted that almost all of the new cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people.
She told unvaccinated people that they need to continue to follow the 3 Ws -- wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing hands frequently.
"I know hearing these messages is alarming," Cooper said. "Everyone hoped we'd be past this by now, including me. But until more people get vaccinated, this is the reality we must confront. We'll continue to battle this pandemic by increasing vaccination rates. This is our only way out of this."
UNC-Chapel Hill infectious disease professor David Wohl tells ABC 11 that the Centers for Disease Control and Gov. Cooper need to be tougher. With the highly contagious delta variant pushing up coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Wohl argues the CDC and Cooper need to use more muscle to enforce more masking.
"It's new recommendations and guidance. But I really feel that unless there's a little bit more behind it, there's many of our counties that won't adapt these. And we're gonna see outbreaks and we're gonna see school closings," Wohl said. "I understand it's hard to govern. And I don't want to be in the governor's shoes. But sometimes you have to take an unpopular stance to protect people."