RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- During a Wednesday news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper announced guidance for mask-wearing in North Carolina schools for the upcoming school year.
It comes as cases across the state are on the rise.
The 1,434 new COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday mark the fifth time more than 1,000 cases have been reported in the past week. Wednesday's case count is the highest daily increase since May 14. The positivity rate of 7.9% is also higher than the positivity rate on July 21, 2020.
"Fueled by the Delta variant, we've seen a recent increase in cases, percent positive and hospitalizations," Cooper said Wednesday.
He said the vast majority of new cases and hospitalizations are among people who haven't been vaccinated.
"It's clear vaccines work and are our best weapon to fight COVID," he said.
Cooper's executive order requiring masks at health facilities and on public transportation expires at the end of the month. There will no longer be a mask mandate for the state once that ends, Cooper announced.
"Although we will no longer have a statewide mask mandate, we expect people to be smart, follow public health guidance and do what works," he said.
The COVID-19 State of Emergency will remain in effect.
Cooper and NCDHHS Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen also announced an updated public schools toolkit with guidance for masking.
The guidance says that all schools should require that all children and staff in schools K-8th grade wear face coverings consistently when indoors. It says that schools K-8th grade should make mask use universally required regardless of vaccination status.
In high schools, face coverings should also be worn indoors by all individuals who are not fully vaccinated, including students grades 9th-12th, workers, teachers, guests, other adults and children age two (2) or older, unless an exception applies, the guidance says.
Cooper said that we "know from extensive research that the spread of COVID-19 in schools last year was low because students and staff wore masks."
Cohen said only 24 percent of those 12-17 are vaccinated. That means most high schoolers, at this point, would not be able to be unmasked.
Cohen also said school administrators may opt to make mask use universally required even in high schools, and the state supports that.
This comes as some health agencies are giving conflicting guidance pertaining to mask-wearing in schools.
The CDC said in early July that vaccinated students and teachers can go without masks.
But this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in school of everyone over the age of 2.
Wake County Schools said earlier this week that it has plans to stick with its mask mandate for this school year. However, those plans were based on the state's guidance, which is now changing.
The new toolkit goes into effect July 30 at 5 p.m.
"Today's decision by the governor and NC DHHS flies in the face of recommendations by the CDC, the ABC Science Collaborative, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which all stress the necessity of masking unvaccinated students while in school," NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement on Wednesday. "In the face of dramatically rising COVID infections among unvaccinated North Carolinians in the past several weeks due to the Delta variant, and schools preparing to open for the new school year, this seems a very poorly timed decision. Our youngest students are still months away from being vaccinated and they are uniquely vulnerable to this more virulent strain of COVID. We continue to encourage all unvaccinated individuals to get their shot and wear masks whenever possible to protect themselves and others from this ongoing and still highly contagious pandemic."