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UNC System announces mask-optional change, University to keep mandate following county policies

Following a cluster of COVID-19 cases, Carrboro High School will reinstate its indoor mask mandate starting Thursday.

The UNC System announced on Friday that its institutions should make wearing masks indoors optional by March 7.

The change will not affect UNC-Chapel Hill at this time, as Orange County leaders announced last week that the county's indoor mask mandate would remain in place, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a campus-wide announcement Friday.

The UNC System announcement follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s Feb. 17 recommendation that schools and local governments end mask mandates starting March 7.

"In making the transition to these new protocols, I expect all campuses to continue providing your students with the in-person classroom instruction they expect and deserve, consistent with your current course modality plans and campus policies," UNC System President Peter Hans wrote in a memo sent to chancellors on Friday.

University masking implications

If the Orange County Health Departments lifts the county's indoor mask mandate, the University will follow suit in accordance with the latest UNC System guidance, Guskiewicz said in the email.

Based on testing data since January, UNC has an 11.24 percent COVID-19 positivity, according to the University's dashboard as of Friday. Also since January, UNC has reported a total of 3,587 positive cases — 3,116 in students and 471 in employees.

"One of the reasons we have been able to mitigate spread on our campus, even during the omicron variant earlier this year, is the adherence to the COVID-19 Community Standards by so many of you each day," Guskiewicz said. "We know you are wearing your mask, getting boosted, staying home when sick and testing when necessary."

Other UNC System institutions have lifted mandates. Following the UNC System announcement, Appalachian State University announced it would lift its indoor mask requirement on March 7.

North Carolina State University announced Monday that community members will face coverings that will not be required in most indoor spaces on campus starting Feb. 28.

However, masks will still be required for N.C. State students, faculty and staff in classrooms and instructional settings, laboratories, university buses and health care spaces. Employees working in dining areas will still be required to wear masks.

Local and state mask mandates

The Orange County Board of Education unanimously voted to lift indoor school mask mandates in a meeting on Monday, shortly after Cooper's recommendation.

Masks will be made optional for OCS students within 72 hours of Orange County government lifting its indoor mask mandate.

Guskiewicz has previously said that the University may not align with the Town of Chapel Hill regarding masking requirements.

“Indoor events for any University-related activity for organizations that have an official affiliation relationship with the University would require masks — whether they’re being held on campus or off campus,” Guskiewicz told The Daily Tar Heel in August.

UNC-Chapel Hill moved to fully in-person instruction earlier this month, writing in a campus wide-email that classes should be held according to "the mode of instruction that was advertised at the time of student registration." 

The University and UNC System have not yet mandated COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters on campus. But both Hans and Guskiewicz have said that a vaccine mandate would require approval from the North Carolina Commission for Public Health. 


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