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Mask-optional policy begins next week at most NC agencies

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Mask-wearing inside most North Carolina state government buildings will become optional starting next week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday.

Continued improving COVID-19 numbers, along with access to vaccinations and other treatments "are making this step possible,” Cooper said in a news release. The change takes place Monday, the same day that new guidance that encourages the end to mask mandates by K-12 schools and child care facilities take effect.

Cooper's executive orderapplies to his Cabinet-level agencies and other offices that have specifically chosen to participate in the policy. Agencies led by Council of State members can set their own policies.

The new state human resources policy still gives agency heads the ability to require masks in high-risk settings such as prisons, state-run hospitals and homeless shelters.

Cooper's executive order keeps in place a requirement that unvaccinated employees get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week. But starting Monday, these workers can comply by using at-home rapid tests, the order says.

State health data shows the number of reported COVID-19 cases continues a downward trek. The state's hospitals reported about 1,540 people who were hospitalized Monday had the virus. In late January, the total was over 5,000.

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