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Wake County, Raleigh ending mask mandates; Orange County will continue with its for now

A KN95 mask and a surgical mask.
A KN95 mask and a surgical mask.

Wake County and the City of Raleigh announced Friday that they are ending mask mandates effective Friday, Feb 25.

In a statement, officials say the mandates can end due to decreasing case counts and hospitalizations across the county.

Individual employers will be free to maintain mask mandates on their premises. However, some county facilities, including detention centers and courtrooms, may still require masks.

Masks are likely to become optional in Wake County Schools within the next several days. In a message sent to families, officials with the state's largest school district said that wearing masks will be optional, but recommended.

The official date has not yet been announced, but the county's school board has schedule a meeting for Tuesday to discuss local mask mandates.

Meanwhile, Orange County leaders stated that their county's mask mandate will stay in place for now. County, Chapel Hill, and other community officials and those stated a responsibility to UNC Hospitals as a reason to continue the mandate.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper held a news conference to encourage schools and local governments to end mask mandates.

Cooper cited North Carolina’s COVID-19 metrics as the reason for his support in dropping the mandates. He said the metrics continue to move in the right direction and vaccines are now widely available.

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

People and businesses should continue to make the best decisions for themselves, their employees and their customers, Cooper stated in a news release. However, there are still some places, such as health care, long-term care and transportation like airplanes, where a mask will be required because of the setting or federal regulations.

State health officials have been strongly urging students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors, but it has been left up to school boards to make mask-wearing required or optional. About half of the boards in the state have now agreed to mask-optional policies.

Also on Thursday, the General Assembly passed legislation that would allow parents to permit their K-12 students to opt out of mask-wearing mandates set by local education boards inside schools.

The bill now heads to Cooper's desk. The governor didn't say what he'd do with the opt-out measure, but he said he has “concerns that it’s unwise and irresponsible.” The governor could veto the measure, sign it into law or let it become law without his signature.

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